(The Center Square) – Missouri’s health and social service agencies will get 60% of an estimated $458 million opioid settlement, leaving the state’s 114 counties with the remaining 40% under an agreement reached by Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Families of victims of opioid overdoses and representatives of nonprofits and treatment centers joined Schmitt on Friday in St. Louis to announce one of the largest victim-centric settlements in the state’s history. Johnson & Johnson and opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will make its first $50 million payment in April. Payments are higher at the start of the 18-year term and decrease over time.
“There will be grant applications to different agencies in the state – public safety, health, mental health and social services,” Schmitt said. “It will flow through applications to those state agencies for some of the providers who are here today. Those folks are engaged in the treatment of people who suffer from the addictions.”
Rev. Darryl Gray, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices and a longtime civil rights advocate, said proper distribution of settlement funds was a priority for nonprofit groups and treatment centers.
“Our biggest issue has always been administrative versus what actually gets to the ground,” Gray said. “That was one of the questions I asked the attorney general. The legislation will have a formula that ensures a vast portion of this money actually gets to people who are providing the programs.”
Schmitt noted the settlement was reached using his staff and not outside counsel to get statewide agreement from 114 counties, therefore preserving the dollars gained by the settlement.
“I think that for all of us, our interests were aligned,” said Schmitt, a candidate for the office of retiring Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt. “That’s the good news. And as we tried to indicate to those counties, the state in many ways is a pass-through to the agencies and the people who get the money.
“For us, the big priority was that this didn’t go into general revenue and wherever that [money] would go somewhere down the road. This was victim centric, so these dollars are going directly to help those who are suffering from addiction.”
Schmitt said the statewide agreement resulted in a higher settlement. He said it appears other states also are getting statewide agreements for opioid settlements.
“We had to get all of the frogs in the wheelbarrow, so to say,” Schmitt said. “Everybody is in and that’s why we’re able to maximize the settlement. The real danger was if you don’t get everybody on board, the amount of money would be cut in half.
“Based on what other states are doing, I think what you’re seeing in the last couple of weeks is a lot of states are announcing these [settlements] and we’ve got the critical mass that’s necessary.”
Although Gray’s organization represents 400 churches throughout the state and many in disadvantaged neighborhoods, he said addiction resources are needed everywhere.
“The rural community has made it very clear the issue is just as devastating there as in the urban community,” Gray said. “We need to make sure the formula is equitable. And so we begin to advocate now.”
Gray said the coalition of leaders of nonprofits and treatment centers joining Schmitt for the announcement need to immediately begin planning and holding state government accountable.
“We’ll start having those conversations now and not waiting until April when the $50 million gets here,” Gray said. “It’s going to force community organizations and people to be more vigilant. We’re going to have to ask questions. We’re going to have to show up. We’re not going to simply rely on state government to do what we believe it should do. We’re going to monitor state government to ensure it does what it’s supposed to do.”
A media release from Schmitt’s office said there’s a potential for hundreds of millions of additional opioid settlement funds from litigation with Mallinckrodt and Purdue Pharma.