County officials establish opioid settlement funds

Bartholomew County government is preparing to receive its first installment from the $26 billion U.S. opioid settlement.

An ordinance creating two funds for the county’s share was giving an initial first-reading approval Monday by the Bartholomew County commissioners. A final vote to create both a large restricted fund, as well as a smaller and unrestricted fund will take place during the commissioners’ regular weekly meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 4.

The county will receive $3 million over the next 18 years from the settlement that includes drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, along with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.

But more money is expected as large pharmacies such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS also agree to pay out money as part of the settlement, commissioner Chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

The largest amount will be the first payment this year, county Auditor Pia O’Connor said. The establishment of both a restricted fund and a unrestricted fund was prescribed by the Indiana State Board of Accounts, she said.

Pharmaceutical companies have been accused, among other things, of downplaying the addiction risks of opioids. One accusation against distributors is that they failed to stop pills from being illegally diverted, as well as not properly overseeing their pharmacies.

County attorney Grant Tucker said he attempted to contact state officials to find out how the settlement money can be spent, but as of Monday, he has not received a reply to his inquiry.

Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said he would like some funds spent on a new vehicle for Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting. Kleinhenz also suggested that funding should be provided to the Alliance for Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) in Bartholomew County.

Two audience members – Stephanie Carmer and Mike Lovelace – inquired whether some funds can be used to address the local homeless problem. In response, Tucker and the commissioners expressed doubt, but the idea was not dismissed.

“There has been no discussion on how this money will be used,” commissioner Tony London said. “But whatever amount the settlement is won’t come close to touching the damage that was done.”

While the commissioners will make the decision on how the funds will be spent, their decision will still need the approval of the Bartholomew County Council, Lienhoop said.