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News / Health / Clark County Health

Southwest Washington cities OK interlocal agreement to form opioid abatement council

Region a step closer to accessing opioid settlement funds

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 27, 2024, 6:08am

The city of Vancouver will soon be able to tap into opioid settlement funds to help fight Southwest Washington’s opioid crisis.

On Monday, the Vancouver City Council approved an interlocal agreement with the cities of Camas and Washougal to form a Southwest Region Opioid Abatement Council. The creation of the council will allow each city to spend settlement funds received from litigation against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioids, a class of drugs that relieve pain but can be highly addictive.

The Camas City Council approved the agreement March 18; the Washougal City Council has yet to act.

However, the agreement becomes effective after two parties sign, and the Washougal City Council intends to approve the agreement, according to Vancouver Assistant City Attorney Dan Lloyd.

The attorney general’s office has so far recovered more than $1.2 billion for the state to address the opioid crisis. Nearly $500 million from the lawsuit settlements will go to local jurisdictions; the rest will go to the state.

Vancouver will receive 1.73 percent of the total that is going to local governments, or roughly $8.5 million, according to the attorney general’s office. Camas will receive $1.3 million, and Washougal will receive about $630,000. Clark County is expected to receive $22 million.

The funds can only be used for approved purposes outlined in the One Washington Memorandum of Understanding, which the city of Vancouver agreed to in April 2022. The memorandum requires the formation of regional opioid abatement councils to ensure that all funds are spent on approved purposes, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said in a staff report.

“The (memorandum) does not specify an exact sum for which the City of Vancouver would accept as settlement, but rather established a default allocation structure to facilitate resolution and avoid unnecessary litigation with other Washington and SW Washington jurisdictions,” Holmes wrote.

Approved purposes include improving and expanding addiction treatment; supporting people in recovery by providing wrap-around services such as housing, transportation and education; increasing the availability of the overdose medication naloxone; enhancing the prescription drug monitoring program; and supporting first responders.

Local governments in Clark County and across Washington received a combined $55 million in March to combat the opioid epidemic. The bulk of the March money came from a one-time payment from Walmart, according to a news release from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Clark County received $2.15 million from the March money, bringing the total funds received to $3.57 million with about $19 million more to go, according to a chart provided by the attorney general’s office.

Per the memorandum, the opioid abatement council will be responsible for monitoring the distribution of opioid funds to programs and services; developing and maintaining an online public dashboard for the publication of data for expenditures of opioid funds; collecting additional outcome-related data to evaluate the use of opioid funds; and hearing complaints from participating local governments about alleged failure to use opioid funds for approved purposes or comply with reporting requirements.

The next step for Vancouver is creating the public dashboard, Lloyd said.

Negotiations to create the Southwest Region Opioid Abatement Council have been ongoing since 2023. Camas and Washougal recently agreed to Vancouver’s proposal, according to Holmes.

In January, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the state had entered a settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson for marketing practices that helped fuel the opioid epidemic in Washington. The abatement amount is $123 million in a one-time payment contingent on local government participation.

In April, the Vancouver City Council will be presented with the settlement, which requires 37 litigating local governments to sign on. If Vancouver joins and the settlement is successful, the city will receive a one-time payment between $900,000 and $950,000, according to Lloyd.