Recommendations issued for spending SC’s $360M portion of $26B opioid lawsuit settlement

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:01 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new report released Wednesday details how South Carolina wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars the state is receiving from a major, nationwide opioid settlement.

More than $360 million is headed to the state over the next 18 years, part of an overall $26 billion agreement paid out by three pharmaceutical drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, and one manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.

Per an agreement, 92% of South Carolina’s portion must be spent on combatting the opioid epidemic in the state.

“With the lives at stake in this drug crisis, we really cannot afford to squander the settlement funds,” South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby said.

The report — a nearly 40-page “guide” written by the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) and South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, with contributions from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and distributed to recipient municipalities around the state — outlines a list of approved uses for the money: naloxone or other FDA-approved drug to reserve opioid overdoses; medications for opioid use disorders and other opioid use disorder treatments; pregnant and postpartum women; expanding treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome; expansion of warm hand-off programs and recovery services; treatment for incarcerated population; prevention programs; evidence-based data collection and research analyzing the effectiveness of the abatement strategies within the state; and expanding syringe services programs.

But within those categories, counties, municipalities, hospitals, nonprofits, and other groups have the discretion to determine the specifics for how they believe their money is best spent.

“All of the research shows when evidence-based programs and services are implemented, we get the outcomes that we need,” Goldsby said.

About two-thirds of the state’s portion is reserved for local governments, with money guaranteed for all 46 counties and more than 40 cities and towns and amounts based on what South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called “opioid harm metrics.” Generally, larger cities and counties are guaranteed larger sums than smaller ones.

More than $100 million of the remaining money will be available for hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and other groups to request funds, along with additional requests local governments may have past their guaranteed money.

A new, nine-member board, with representatives coming from different regions of the state, will be responsible for approving and distributing the money.

“It is my hope that we’ll be able to start putting this money to use in just a few months,” Wilson said, adding the state is supposed to receive more than $75 million by the end of the year.

Dr. Edward Simmer, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said while opioid addiction is difficult to treat and overcome, “there is hope,” with some of the approved uses marked for treatment programs.

Simmer also outlined statistics that show how the epidemic has taken shape in South Carolina, noting about 4,000 South Carolinians have died in the last three years from opioid overdoses and that enough opioid prescriptions were written in the last year to cover about two-thirds of the state’s population, though certainly some people have been written multiple prescriptions.

“That’s just legal opioids,” Simmer said. “Think about all the illegal opioids, the fentanyl pills, and things traffickers are bringing into our state. This is a major crisis.”

In the coming months, Simmer said DHEC will be offering fentanyl test strips to the public for free through health departments, and people will also be able to obtain Narcan and training on how to use it.

The $26 billion split across the country is just one component of the settlement between governments and drug manufacturers and distributors.

Among other agreements, the three distributors now must report suspicious opioid orders, while the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, can no longer sell opioids.

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