WILLMAR — If a critical mass of the counties and cities of Minnesota agree to join the massive opioid settlement against Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, that state could end up receiving up to $337 million over 18 years from the total $26 billion agreement.
Kandiyohi County did its part at the Oct. 5 Board of Commissioners meeting, when the board agreed to have the county join the settlement, at the urging of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Local units of government in the state only have through Jan. 1 to decide whether to join the lawsuit settlement.
"The more counties that opt in, the better results the state of Minnesota will receive," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
Counties and cities who do not join the settlement will be unable to directly receive any of the money being paid. According to information from Ellison's office, if not enough of the local units of government take part, Minnesota's total allocation from the total settlement could be less than half of that $337 million figure.
Kleindl also announced he will be serving on a state advisory panel on the distribution and allocation of opioid settlement funds, a panel that will determine just how Minnesota's funds will be spread around, including how much will be coming to the individual counties. The funds will be used primarily to pay for substance abuse prevention and treatment. State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, will also hold a leadership role on the panel.
"It is very important our county is represented on this committee," said County Commissioner Corky Berg.
In an interview with the West Central Tribune on Tuesday, Kleindl said there are a lot of ideas on how the money should be spent. The panel will be taking a look at what other states are doing, which organizations should get money, how much and how the money should be used.
"Everybody has different thoughts on that," Kleindl said. "That is why we are on this panel, to have those discussions."
What is necessary is that counties have a voice at the table.
"We as counties believe we do a good job identifying where those services need to go," Kleindl said. "We have a strong interest in advocating for counties to get a large share of that percentage."
The massive settlement was announced in July. It brings to an end the state and federal lawsuits more than 4,000 states and local governments filed against Johnson & Johnson and the other parties for the part they allegedly played in the deadly opioid abuse crisis that has swept across the country, a news release from Ellison's office said. In Minnesota alone, approximately 4,821 have died of opioid overdoses between 2000 and 2019. In 2020, another 654 deaths were reported, a 59% increase from the year before, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
States, counties and cities that join the settlement waive their rights to individually sue the companies involved. While there are some who have decided to go on their own, hoping to be awarded a larger settlement through individual lawsuits, Kleindl believes Kandiyohi County's best bet is to join the national and state settlement.
"That is my opinion and I strongly believe that," Kleindl said. "Most of the commissioners are in agreement with that."