PHOENIX (AP) - Maricopa County has become the first local government in Arizona to sign onto a massive settlement agreement with pharmaceutical companies over the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the settlement, which is expected to bring the county about $80 million of Arizona’s anticipated allocation, which could reach $550 million or more.
In Arizona, the state, all 15 counties and nearly 100 cities and towns can sign on to the $26 billion settlement between pharmaceutical companies and government entities around the country. The settlement involving Johnson & Johnson as well as three pharmaceutical distributors was announced last summer. The money must be used to address costs associated with the opioid epidemic.
"If you are going to wreak havoc on our community, whether it’s through the vail of a business or some other means, we will hold you accountable. We’ve seen the faces out there suffering from this, we’ve seen how it’s impacted our community for so many generations as also evidenced by the brave people standing next to me today," said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel.
While nothing can compensate for the pain caused by opioid addiction and death, the settlement money can help alleviate the burden on taxpayers, Adel said during a news conference.
"Throwing money at a problem doesn’t just fix it, but it does get our community off on a journey now to get us that much closer to healing the devastation," Adel said.
By signing onto the national settlement, Maricopa County agrees to drop its own lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies. The county has not settled with Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, which is in bankruptcy proceedings.
Opioid epidemic takes toll on Arizonans
In Arizona, more than 11,000 people have died in the past four years from opioid overdoses. Others who were affected by opioid, like Sean Humphrey, are speaking out.
Humphrey said he remembers the first time he had OxyContin.
"It was very easy to access," said Sean. "There was a large supply, there wasn’t a whole lot of times right off the bat where I was without those substances."
From there, it went to heroin. Humphrey's brother eventually started using.
"After 10 years of this, eventually it started to change, even though we thought for sure they would not survive," said Sean's father, Kim Humphrey.
Sean and his brother got clean, in part thanks to his family’s involvement with recovery groups.
"I think anything to be done to hold these folks accountable is a good thing. The pharmaceutical companies knew exactly what they were doing with OxyContin. They were deceptive in their business practices," said Sean.
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