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Monday, June 5, 2023
June 5, 2023

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Yakima joins state settlement agreement with opioid pharmacies, manufacturers


YAKIMA — Settlement money from a lawsuit against five opioid pharmacies and manufacturers could eventually come to Yakima after the city joined the state of Washington and other municipalities in an agreement.

The Yakima City Council unanimously approved joining the settlement agreement during its Tuesday night meeting.

City Attorney Sara Watkins said the state’s attorney general’s office has reached a settlement with five companies: Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Teva and Allergan. These settlements will bring Washington $434 million over 15 years if all conditions of the agreement are met, Watkins said.

Washington cities and counties will receive half the amount, $217 million, if each eligible city and county joins the settlement, Watkins added.

Whatever money is awarded to Yakima will come in gradually over a period of years, rather than as a lump sum, and the public will have an opportunity to comment on how the settlement money should be used, she said.

Previous litigation

In September 2022, the city agreed to negotiated settlement amounts in a similar statewide case against the nation’s three largest opioid distributors: McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal Health.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson rejected a national settlement with the distributors as well as Johnson & Johnson that nearly every other state had accepted. Under that deal, the states will receive nearly $20 billion over 18 years.

Instead, Washington spent six months in a complex trial against the companies before reaching its own $518 million settlement in May 2022, one that’s worth $46 million more than the state would have received under the national deal. Washington is also pursuing a separate lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to go to trial this year.

Over the last two decades, the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans have been linked to overdoses of opioids, including both prescription pain kills and illicit drugs such as heroin, the Associated Press reported. Deaths have recently skyrocketed from the spread of illegally produced fentanyl.

The attorney general argued that McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal Health were fueling addiction to painkillers by shipping vast amount of drugs to the state. Opioid sales in Washington rose more than 500% between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state — enough for a 16-day supply for every resident, Ferguson said.

The $518 million from the settlement with distributors is coming to Washington over the next 17 years, with the first payment of $55 million received Dec. 1. The settlement required approval from 125 cities and counties, which are receiving $215 million directly and which agreed among themselves how to split the money based on factors such as how many painkillers were shipped to their jurisdictions and how many residents died from overdoses.

Yakima County is slated to receive $4.1 million, with $1.3 million going to the city of Yakima, $260,897 to Sunnyside and $114,080 to Grandview.

Yakima City Manager Bob Harrison said the city will have to develop a framework of a program based on allowed uses in the deal.

Watkins said the settlement allows the funds to be put toward opioid use disorder treatment or prevention of misuse, overdose deaths or over-prescribing. It can also be used to support training programs, law enforcement costs related to the opioid epidemic or opioid research, she added.

A total of 77,936,070 prescription pain pills, enough for 36 pills per person per year, were supplied to Yakima County from 2006-14, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration database.

City council member Soneya Lund noted that Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences will host a town hall forum on the fentanyl epidemic from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23.