Board Agrees to Opt-In on PA Opioids Settlement

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – With its solicitor’s stated belief that Lower Pottsgrove could benefit at little to no risk, the township Board of Commissioners on Thursday (Oct. 21, 2021) authorized Manager Ed Wagner to begin paperwork that allows the municipality to participate in Pennsylvania’s settlement of a lawsuit against major U.S. pharmaceutical distributors of opioid-based drugs.

The settlement would resolve thousands of claims by states, counties, cities, and other entities that allege the companies are responsible for the continuing nationwide opioid epidemic, due in part to addictive pain-killing medicines. The federal Centers for Disease Control cites statistics that indicate nearly 500,000 people died from opioid-involved overdoses between 1999 and 2019.

In Pennsylvania, the centers also reported, drug overdose deaths rose 16 percent during 2020 alone.

Wagner and township Solicitor Charles Garner Jr. both said they examined an invitation from state Attorney General and former Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro to apply to benefit. Although there are few specifics so far, Garner believes the state may provide funding to municipal participants for programs, materials, or practices that address problems the epidemic created.

The solicitor said it was “premature” to know how much money, if any, might be available; how it would be distributed, or on what it could be spent. Shapiro’s notice is “far from clear” on those details, Garner acknowledged. The whole proposal is so new, Wagner added, that its website isn’t fully fleshed out. “But there doesn’t seem to be any downside to opting in,” Garner explained.

If commissioners later decide they don’t agree with terms of the offer, Garner also observed, they can just as easily opt-out and discontinue the township’s participation. However, unless the township is registered and “gets involved up front,” he said, it might be unable to participate at some point in the future.

Shapiro announced the tentative settlement July 21. It involves 10 states including Pennsylvania, for a total of about $26 billion. However both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, whose populations are dramatically affected by the opioid crisis, filed legal challenges against the settlement in August. They claim the money would not be enough, and that the pharmaceutical companies needed to pay more.

Commissioners sought and received assurance that the township would not be responsible for any liabilities resulting from the settlement. Then they asked Wagner to do what he needed to proceed on Lower Pottsgrove’s behalf.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya via Unsplash, used under license