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Commissioners Take Next Step in Opioid Litigation, Reach Agreement with State Concerning Use of Settlement Funds

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is taking the next step toward resolving a years-old lawsuit against the opioid industry. On June 1, Commissioners unanimously approved a Memorandum of Agreement with the state of North Carolina outlining how the County and state would divide and spend any settlement funds resulting from opioid litigation.

The County filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 against several manufacturers and distributors of opioids, which was joined with thousands of other lawsuits filed by local governments in a federal court Multi-District Litigation (MDL) action in Ohio. Buncombe, along with other local governments in North Carolina, could be receiving a portion of an estimated $850 million that is expected to be allocated to North Carolina as part of a national settlement with some of the MDL defendants. That money would be distributed among North Carolina local governments according to a formula developed by attorneys representing local governments in national litigation.

In preparation of accepting the funding, Commissioners are signing a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the State of North Carolina. The MOA would allocate 2.51% of any recovery allocated to North Carolina local governments to Buncombe to fund strategies to address the epidemic.

To maximize funds flowing to North Carolina communities on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, the agreement would direct settlement funds as follows:

  • 15% to the state, which the General Assembly would appropriate to address the epidemic.
  • 80% to local governments, including all 100 counties and 17 municipalities.
  • An additional 5% to an incentive fund to encourage counties and large- and medium-size municipalities to sign on to the agreement.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017, was the first of its kind filed in North Carolina with 76 other state counties and eight municipalities also filing suit. The goal is for settlement money to help provide much-needed funding toward resources and services in the ongoing fight against the opioid epidemic. Combatting this critical public health issue has long been a priority of Buncombe County as we are on the frontlines responding to and caring for community members struggling with addiction. The peripheral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic such as unemployment and isolation led to an uptick in opioid use, and the additional funding would provide pivotal assistance in creating and bolstering community resources. From 2000-2019, more than 16,000 North Carolinians died of opioid overdoses. The lawsuit looks to hold opioid manufacturers, distributors, marketers, and others accountable for the lives damaged and lost due to this epidemic.

Last year, the Buncombe County Register of Deeds launched a website exploring the opioid epidemic and tracking opioid-related deaths. Click here to view that website.