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Dreamland revisited: County featured in bestselling opioid crisis book lone holdout in settlement

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Scioto County featured prominently in the story of the opioid addiction epidemic that has devastated hundreds of cities and towns across the United States. Its Dreamland Pool in Portsmouth was used to illustrate a hinge point in the evolution and depths of the crisis in Sam Quinones’ National Book Critics Award-winning, “Dreamland: The True Tales of America’s Opiate Epidemic.”

Now, Scioto County is the only local government in Ohio that has chosen to opt-out of the state’s $808 million settlement with the three largest distributors of opioids in the country.

The reason why? Because what the county would receive wouldn’t even begin to touch the cost the opioid epidemic has taken on the community, Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis said.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in Scioto County thinks that the settlement is laughable,” Davis said. “It is so small, and to know what these distributors did to us and the fact that they are not going to have to admit any blame … Ohio had a trial date, and they’re quitting.”

In early August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost urged Ohio’s political subdivisions to join in the state’s $808 million settlement with Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, the nation’s three largest opioid distributors.

Through the OneOhio opioid settlement agreement, 55% of the settlement would go to a foundation that would disburse over $440 million to communities and opioid programs across the state that apply for funding. Thirty percent of the settlement would go directly to Ohio’s local communities, and 15% would go to the state.

Under the agreement, Scioto County would directly receive $1.8 million over the course of 18 years — or about $100,000 a year.

During an Aug. 12 commissioners meeting, Scioto County voted not to join the settlement agreement, becoming the only holdout in the state.

Davis said that very few of Scioto County’s 76,000 residents have not been affected, directly or indirectly, by the opioid epidemic. Split among the population, the settlement would represent $23.68 per person over 18 years, he said.

“I have to believe that if an individual in this county, a family in this county, had an opportunity to bring suit against one of these companies, that they would ask for more than $23.68,” he said.

Scioto County didn’t opt out just because of the amount of funding, though. Though, officials say, the state has spoken with Ohio’s local governments about the agreement, the attorney general’s office put out seemingly contradictory announcements, they say, and has not yet actually shown the settlement agreement between the state and the distributors.

In a press conference earlier this month, Yost said that the distributors needed representation of at least 95% of the state’s population to sign on before the deal could move forward, in order to reduce the risk of further litigation from Ohio’s communities.

A few days later, after more than 96% of the population had already been represented in the settlement, Yost took to Twitter to criticize Cincinnati, the last city to join the settlement.

Yost said that if Cincinnati did not opt-in, the distributors would shrink the settlement by $70 million, since “the settlement money is based on how many settle.”

During a special Cincinnati City Council meeting last week, Mayor John Cranley also criticized the state’s OneOhio plan, saying that local governments should receive the bulk of the settlement money rather than just 30%.

“The direct local government costs (of the opioid epidemic) are in fact local government costs,” Cranley said. “We are entitled to be reimbursed for our expenses and our damages first.”

After some deliberation, Cincinnati voted to join the settlement last Wednesday.

Both Davis and Cranley were also apprehensive about the fact that the settlement has not been seen on paper yet. Davis said that Scioto County’s lawyers asked the attorney general’s office to see the settlement, but were not given access to it.

“We need to read it to be able to pass it,” Davis said. “All of these votes are on a document they haven’t seen.”

Since opting out, Scioto County will not directly receive any money from the settlement and will have to pursue its own case against the distributors to recover any funds. Going forward with its own litigation, however, will give the county the opportunity to hold the distributors responsible in court.

“Under this plan, your story will not be told. Your family will not get their voice heard. The defendants will not have to allow their dirty laundry to be aired,” Davis said at a commission meeting. “Everything will be sealed, nothing will be said. What they did to our community, none of that will be made public.”


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.


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