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Most Md. subdivisions will participate in opioid settlement — but not Baltimore

Madeleine O'Neill//January 28, 2022

Most Md. subdivisions will participate in opioid settlement — but not Baltimore

By Madeleine O'Neill

//January 28, 2022

The state of Maryland and nearly all of its political subdivisions have agreed to participate in a financial settlement with the opioid maker Johnson & Johnson and several opioid distributors, Attorney General Brian Frosh announced Friday.

The city of Baltimore, however, is not joining the settlement, a city spokesperson confirmed.

The loss of one of Maryland’s biggest and most populous jurisdictions means the overall financial settlement coming to Maryland will be smaller. As it stands, Maryland is set to receive about $400 million over 18 years under the agreement.

In a news release, Frosh said that 58 out of Maryland’s 60 qualifying subdivisions will take part in the settlement, which is expected to total $26 billion nationwide.

The news release from the Attorney General’s Office did not identify the two subdivisions that are not participating in the settlement. Raquel Coombs, a spokesperson for the office, said in an email that two subdivisions are the city of Baltimore and the Baltimore Board of Education.

James Bentley, who is acting as interim communications director for Mayor Brandon Scott, also confirmed that Baltimore has declined to participate.

The decision means that Baltimore will go it alone as it proceeds with litigation against Johnson & Johnson and the opioid distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, in hopes of winning a larger payout.

As part of the settlement announced Friday, states could receive incentive payments for getting a larger number of subdivisions, such as cities and counties, to agree to the deal. The opioid defendants could choose to back out of the settlement if too few plaintiffs signed on to make the deal worthwhile.

Michael Sanderson, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said Frosh’s office worked with representatives from local subdivisions to develop a distribution plan that the local partners found fair.

The distribution is intended to recognize that some localities have been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than others, and uses a formula to calculate how much money each should receive.

In total, Sanderson said, Maryland’s distribution agreement breaks down to about 70% for local jurisdictions and municipalities, and 30% for the state.

Baltimore’s decision to opt out means the total amount of settlement money coming to Maryland is smaller, Sanderson said. He estimated the decision may have shrunk the total settlement by as much as $100 million.

“From the outset it seemed clear to all parties that Baltimore city, I think, faces a set of challenges and a level of incidents that was really unlike anyone else,” Sanderson said.

He said local jurisdictions are unlikely to see a major difference in their final settlement total because Baltimore declined to participate. The city would have used up a large chunk of the money coming to Maryland’s subdivisions if it had joined the deal.

“I think this’ll be at least close to a wash for other local jurisdictions,” Sanderson said.

As part of the settlement, the funds must go toward opioid abatement strategies.

“The settlement will yield hundreds of millions of dollars for Maryland alone, money that the state and its subdivisions can use to remediate the addiction and devastation experienced by families across out state as a result of the opioid crisis,” Frosh said in the news release.

The release did not detail the contours of the distribution plan among the state and subdivisions.

The first distribution of the settlement money is expected in April.

Companies like Johnson & Johnson have faced a slew of lawsuits over their roles in the opioid epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The settlement marks the end of just one piece of an immense legal movement that has sought to hold opioid makers, sellers and marketers responsible for the addiction crisis.

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