A small chunk of money from a multi-billion-dollar settlement over the opioid crisis could reach the Kenai Peninsula.
Alaska’s one of a few dozen states that signed onto a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors, alleging those companies helped fuel the country’s opioid crisis by distributing addictive painkillers, even as rates of addiction were high.
The states landed on a proposed $26 billion settlement for treatment and recovery services nationwide. Now, some municipalities within Alaska have the opportunity to sign on and get a share of that money.
Borough attorney Sean Kelley said there are still a lot of moving parts to be finalized. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the borough’s assembly greenlit the borough’s participation.
“The Kenai Peninsula Borough will certainly see some settlement funds as this plays out," Kelley said. "It’s just hard to predict the when, where and how, at this point.”
The funds are largely going out to states based on population.
That means Alaska is receiving just a quarter of a percent of the $26 billion sum — about $67 million, Kelley said. The state is convening an advisory committee to figure out how to spend its money.
But a portion of the state’s sum will land with nine municipalities in Alaska that have signed onto class action lawsuits in the past. The Kenai Peninsula Borough would receive a little under $1 million, distributed over several years to remediation efforts and service providers impacted by the crisis.
"So, for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, that would be our emergency service providers and the two hospital service areas," Kelley said.
The companies involved in the lawsuit also are not admitting wrongdoing, and continue to deny allegations that they contributed to the opioid epidemic in the U.S. The lawsuit does not include Purdue Pharma, which is undergoing its own litigation.
Some states turned down the settlement and are opting to litigate against the pharmaceutical companies separately. West Virginia’s attorney general told NPR the settlement didn’t take into account the severity of the opioid crisis in the involved states, focusing too much instead on population.
Alaska has seen opioid overdoses increase in recent years, from 480 in 2019 to 660 in 2020. That year, the state saw nearly 150 opioid overdose deaths, which is the most it has ever reported, according to the state’s Department of Health and Social Services.