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Settling cost of opioids

Communities debate accepting state deal with distributors, what to do with potential funds

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Dennis J. McGee, 72, of Warren, holds a photograph of his sons, Dennis J. McGee, left, who died from an opioid overdose, and Brian J. McGee, right, who died in a motorcycle crash, both in 2017.

WARREN — Dennis J. McGee hopes Warren city leaders pause to consider what residents may want it to do with the nearly $500,000 it could receive in a possible opioid lawsuit settlement announced earlier this month.

McGee, 72, tragically lost two sons four years ago. One son, Brian, to a motorcycle accident, and another, Dennis P. McGee, to a drug overdose.

“There’s nothing more painful than losing a child,” McGee said.

His son, Dennis P., 38, a former firefighter, line man, and Amish driver, fought his opioid addiction before he died in December 2017.

McGee and his wife, Barbara, watched as the drugs took over his son’s life. They watched as he battled the addiction. He stole from them. He was in and out of jail.

“He overdosed in the bathroom,” McGee said.

SETTLEMENT STATS

Warren is one of more than 52 Mahoning and Trumbull communities that may be awarded a portion of more than $804 million the state and local communities could receive over an 18-year period — if enough political subdivisions approve the settlement.

Ohio and numerous counties, villages, townships and cities took opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson to court.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Friday 86 percent of the political subdivisions that are litigants in the matter, 114 of 145, have signed on to the agreements. Communities were given a Friday deadline to pass legislation allowing them to participate in and receive a portion of the settlement amount, but Yost on Friday extended the deadline to Aug. 20 to allow more communities to opt in.

Settlement funds will be provided to the communities over an 18-year period.

“To seal the deal, the state must have the support of local governments representing at least 95 percent of its population,” a news release from Yost states.

Yost said the OneOhio settlement money “represents the best opportunity for the many communities hit hard by the opioid crisis to begin to recover from the devastation.”

But the 86 percent is “not enough,” Yost said.

“We need everyone on board for there to be a deal. The distributors could still walk away,” Yost said.

The settlement resources could be used by the state and local communities to create or expand opportunities for opioid substance-use-disorder treatment, prevention and education, Yost said.

“We desperately need this money on the ground combating the opioid epidemic,” the press releases states.

But a few governments are holding out and could “nix the deal for the whole state,” he said.

“That would be a bigger tragedy,” Yost said.

SIGNING ON

Trumbull and Columbiana counties have signed on as litigating communities, according to Yost’s documentation. Although not listed on Yost’s list, Mahoning County commissioners signed on, commissioners said.

Litigating communities Warren and Youngstown have signed off on the settlement.

Howland trustees last week approved a motion for participating in the settlement agreement. Howland Trustee Chairman Rick Clark said because Howland has at least 10,000 residents, it is allowed to participate in the settlement.

Locally, Mahoning and Trumbull county governments would receive the bulk share of the settlement. In the first distribution of funds, Mahoning could receive up to $2.256 million and Trumbull could receive $2.848 million.

Youngstown may be awarded up to $811,053 and Warren up to $496,367 in the first distribution of the settlement. As these cities are the largest in their respective counties, they are expected to receive more than the other political subdivisions in both counties.

The state’s OneOhio plan divvies up the potential funds between state’s communities.

“Under the OneOhio plan, the settlement money would be distributed locally, with 55 percent going to a foundation created to disburse the money and fund programs that benefit Ohioans affected by opioids and / or prevent addiction; 30 percent earmarked for community recovery programs at the local level; (and) 15 percent going to the state of Ohio.”

Non-litigating communities Niles, Warren Township, Girard, Liberty, Newton Falls, Sebring, Lordstown and Poland also have passed the appropriate legislation, according to Yost’s documentation Friday, which may not be a complete list.

“Every politician in the state needs to do the right thing,” Yost said Friday. “This is not a time for gamesmanship or politics. This is ‘we’ time, not ‘me’ time.”

If the settlement moves forward, the first awards are expected to be distributed in 60 to 90 days, according to Warren Law Director Enzo Cantalamessa.

AMOUNTS UNCLEAR

Communities across the Mahoning Valley are looking at ways to use the funds, although many officials declined to comment on the issue while it still is pending.

McGee said local government officials should meet with people like him, those personally affected by the opioid crisis, to hear their opinions of the use of the funds before making any decisions.

“What the city should do is meet with all those affected by opioid addictions — whether it is those who have gotten through the addictions or the loved ones left behind,” McGee said. “They should ask what we would like to see done with these funds.”

The communities cannot begin to make plans until the court reveals guidelines and limitations.

Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said he hopes that much of the money will go toward programs that help people in recovery and their families.

“Outside of the regular government funding programs, this will be one of the largest sources of income specifically aimed at drug recovery and counseling services,” Traficanti said.

Trumbull Commissioner Frank Fuda said the influx of opioids into the community has been crippling.

The commissioners will have to study the best way to prioritize use of the funds, he said.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said opioids placed a huge burden on the city’s first responders.

“The burden it placed on them were, at times, overwhelming,” Melfi said. “It was terrifying for what it did to families as their loved ones were crippled by addictions, sent to prison or lost their lives.”

He described the opioid era as “tragic.”

“It overwhelmed communities and families,” Melfi said.

Girard could be awarded as much as $98, 571.50 in the first round of awards, which isn’t a lot, considering the heavy impact the crisis has had, Melfi said.

“This is not a great deal of money, when we look at the costs cities incurred for all the calls and life-saving measures that had to be taken.”

Police, fire, medical and emergency services personnel in hard-hit areas have responded to hundreds, if not thousands, of accidental fatal and nonfatal overdose calls, tasked with distributing opioid-overdose reversal drugs and other life saving measures at an increased rate during the pandemic, which still shows no signs of stopping.

Melfi said he would like to see some of the money used for education, so this era will not be repeated.

Meanwhile, Trumbull County continues to move forward with a separate prong of the same lawsuit.

While the settlement at hand deals with the part of the federal suit naming the distribution pharmacies, a part of the suit naming the retail pharmacies as defendants moves toward a trial day.

The suit, “a piece of the” opioid lawsuit “pie,” names CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Giant Eagle, said attorney Frank Gallucci, representing Trumbull County commissioners on the case.

Jury selection is scheduled for Sept. 29 before Cleveland federal court Judge Dan Aaron Polster, Gallucci said. A jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 4, according to the court docket, although a settlement could be reached before then.

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