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Maine Attorney General reaches agreement to distribute opioid settlement funds

Jaff Bacon
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Thursday, April 20, 2017, photo, Jeff Bacon shows some of the medication he takes for chronic back pain, in Hampden, Maine. Bacon, who wears a back brace for his debilitating pain, is among those who fear the state's toughest-in-the-nation opioid prescribing laws will prevent him from being able to quell his pain.

Maine's Attorney General says the state has reached an agreement with municipalities, counties, and school districts on how to disburse funds from a national settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers. It could funnel up to $130 million into the state over the next 18 years to help respond to the opioid crisis.

The agreement allocates the settlement funds into three buckets. Twenty percent will go to the state, through the Attorney General's office. Thirty percent will go to 39 Maine municipalities that sued opioid manufacturers and distributors or that have more than 10-thousand residents. And 50% will go into a new Recovery Fund that will be overseen by a council of stakeholders that include local and state officials as well as members of the recovery community, who will decide how to distribute the money.

"Having that Recovery Council advising around the spending of that is a smart move and I think it is an imperative move to make sure that we are spending it where it's going to be most effective," says Malory Shaughnessy, the executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine.

Though Shaughnessy supports how the funds will be distributed, she says the overall amount Maine will receive - $130 million over 18 years - is not enough to mitigate the effects of the opioid epidemic.

"It's an augmentation. It is not going to supplant and take the place of the extra money the state needs to put into this," she says.

The administrator for the city of Lewiston, Heather Hunter, shares a similar sentiment. She says it's unclear at this point how much Lewiston will receive from the settlement.

"I'm not sure any amount is going to be enough," she says. "I'll start with that."

But Hunter acknowledges something is better than nothing. And she's glad that drug companies are being held accountable.

"It's one thing to create something. It's another thing to deal with the aftermath," Hunter says. "And up to this point, they were absolved of the aftermath. Now, they're helping us with the aftermath to hopefully turn the tide."

The agreement comes out of a National Opioid Settlement with drug manufacturer Johnson and Johnson and distribution companies Cardinal, McKesson, and Amerisource Bergen. Maine could begin to receive settlement funds by April, and the fact that a portion will flow directly to municipalities that have been impacted the most by the opioid epidemic is a victory, says attorney Adam Lee of the Auburn-based firm Trafton, Matzen, Belleau and Frenette. Lee represents 23 Maine cities and counties in the opioid suit. And he says litigation is ongoing against pharmaceutical companies that include Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt.

"It should be kept in mind that this is only one portion of the settlement as to Johnson and Johnson and then a few other distributors," Lee says. "There remains several other defendants who we're litigating, and we're anticipating additional settlements to come in."

The newly announced settlement funds come at a time when the opioid crisis shows no signs of abating. Last year, drug overdose deaths in Maine topped more than 600 for the first time. That's a more than 20% increase from 2020.