Naugatuck wants say in allocation of opioid settlement funds


By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials want more say in the allocation of funds from a national opioid litigation settlement.

Lawyers for local governments in July said they were close to a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, as well as Johnson & Johnson.

If adopted by states and subdivisions nationwide, these distributors will pay a maximum of $21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson will pay a maximum of $5 billion with a total of $22.8 billion in settlement proceeds for state and local subdivisions.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved Tuesday for Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess to sign a “Modified Participation Agreement” to have more say in the allocation of $22.8 billion from the national settlement. For the settlement to move ahead, 95% of the municipalities suing in court must formally agree by Jan. 2.

“We’re agreeing that we’re going to settle the case with the other municipalities but we’re reserving our right to negotiate for a bigger piece of the pie than what the state would give us,” Hess said at the borough board meeting.

The state is on its way of meeting the 95% threshold. Municipalities in court are likely to formally agree. Municipalities who aren’t in litigation would probably receive a default allocation, borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick said.

N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, Naugatuck mayor. Contributed

“So this gives us I think a little more leeway in negotiating with the state, even through the attorney general’s office or through the governor’s office or the advisement group as to how the proceeds will be allocating,” Fitzpatrick said at the meeting.

When it comes to how the funds would be allocated, there has been talk of distribution through per capita, direct impact, by population, by opioid overdoses and opioid deaths, Fitzpatrick added.

Of the funds that come to the state, 15% of the settlement proceeds go to the municipalities, 15% would be designated to the other government entities and 70% would go to a state opioid advisory committee. This group would be responsible to make sure the bulk of the money is earmarked for recovery, intervention, education, treatment and prevention. At least half of the group would have municipality representatives, according to Fitzpatrick.

Three law firms represent most of the suing municipalities in the state. Drubner, Hartley, Mengacci & Hellman of Waterbury represents Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Prospect and other municipalities, Fitzpatrick said.

Drubner, Hartley, Mengacci & Hellman represents more than 30 cities and towns in the state for the opioid litigation, according to its website.

The lawsuit alleges that drug makers engaged in a coordinated and sophisticated campaign to mask the risks of opioid medications, while exaggerating benefits to create massive profits. Among other tactics, drug makers pushed opioid use for more common ailments, including back pain, arthritis and headaches, according to the suit.

The suit names as defendants three doctors involved with promoting opioids nationally, along with drug makers Perdu Pharma of Stamford, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries of Israel, Cephalone, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions, along with subsidiaries of these companies.

At least 85% of the funds the borough receives must go for treatment, preventive and therapeutic programs. The remaining 15% may go toward other services including behavioral services, according to Fitzpatrick.

If this is approved, the borough would probably receive the funds by the spring, Fitzpatrick said.

There were 15 fatal opioid overdoses in Naugatuck in 2020, Deputy Police Chief Colin McAllister said.

“We all recognize the serious problem emanating from opioids. It’s hit so many people. It’s hit my own family,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said. “It’s a very difficult problem that needs our attention and it needs the attention of all towns, all cities and all states.”