By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana intends to divvy up the $325 million it expects to receive from a national settlement of opioid epidemic lawsuits to parish sheriffs and local governments to provide addiction treatment, response and recovery services, Attorney General Jeff Landry said Wednesday.
The Republican attorney general announced he had reached an agreement in principal with organizations representing Louisiana’s sheriffs, police juries and municipalities that will govern how the money will be divided and spent.
“We want 100% of the funds to go to assisting those affected,” Landry said at an event with representatives of the local government associations and lawyers involved in the deal.
The attorney general said Louisiana is expected to receive $18 million a year for 18 years as its share of a $26 billion deal involving 42 states to settle opioid abuse lawsuits involving three of the nation’s largest drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.
Opioids have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States since 2000.
Under the agreement Landry announced Wednesday, Louisiana’s health department and other state agencies won’t receive any of the settlement money, except for administrative costs related to an opioids abatement council. That council will review the spending of settlement money by local agencies to make sure they’re following the guidance that the dollars go to addiction treatment.
Officials across the state’s 64 parishes still have to sign off on the deal, but the backing of the local government organizations is expected to help secure those signatures. Walter Leger Jr., a private attorney who worked on the settlement, said the state has about three months to get the required signatures from sheriffs, parish councils and other local officials.
After any administrative costs are backed out, sheriffs will receive 20% of the money, while parishes, cities and towns will split the other 80%.
How much each municipality receives will be set through a nationally devised formula that uses population and the number of opioid prescriptions and opioid related deaths among residents, Leger said.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office will be able to audit the local government spending to confirm it follows the state’s guidelines.
Landry said the dollars aren’t enough to combat the widespread problem of opioid abuse, “but hopefully, it’s a step.” His office said that if other lawsuits against companies in the drug industry over the opioid crisis are settled, those settlement dollars also could flow into the formula for local government agencies.
The attorney general was joined at his news conference by Danny Schneider from the Netflix TV series “The Pharmacist,” which documents Schneider’s fight against the opioid epidemic. Schneider praised the national settlement and Louisiana’s plans for spending the money.
“We don’t want it to go to potholes. We want it to go for treatment and recovery,” he said.