Story County among Iowa counties participating in $173 million opioid settlement

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Story County will participate in two settlements that could result in more than $173 million for the state after Iowa counties sued companies believed to be responsible for the opioid epidemic.

The Story County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to participate in the settlements with pharmaceutical company Janssen and various opioid distributors.

The Iowa State Association of Counties unanimously passed a resolution in November 2017 encouraging member counties to join in litigation against pharmaceutical companies to hold them responsible for the nation's widespread opioid epidemic.

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Forty-seven Iowa counties filed lawsuits against five pharmaceutical companies, their subsidiaries and three physicians for downplaying the risks of opioids and aggressively marketing the drugs to treat chronic pain.

Story County is among 53 unrepresented counties but was asked to join the settlement to reach the maximum settlement value. Full participation of municipalities will result in a full settlement. If all litigants, which does not include Story County, participate, the state will receive $143 million.

"They are trying to get all entities, all counties and all cities to participate in this," Heddens said.

Assistant Story County Attorney Ethan Anderson said at Tuesday's meeting the county is agreeing to no further litigation by participating in the settlement.

The opioid drug crisis has killed more than half a million Americans over the past two decades. Heightened costs for counties have been tied to the crisis, including law enforcement, autopsies and emergency medical services, according to the law firm representing Iowa counties Crueger Dickinson in 2017.

Across the country, counties and cities have taken similar legal action. Tuesday, a federal court ruled CVS, Walgreens and Walmart recklessly distributed the drug in two Ohio counties. Any money Story County receives from the opioid settlement must be spent on opioid mitigation.

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The settlement will result in direct distributions to counties and cities and those local municipalities can redirect the funds back to the state or to another local jurisdiction, Heddens said at the meeting.

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.