The acceptance of a $3.5 million settlement from drugstore chain Rite Aid as part of a multi-jurisdictional action against opioid dealers and manufacturers would be decided by the Cobb County commissioners' vote.
The settlement is worth $10.5 million and is divided between Durham County in North Carolina and Cobb County in Ohio, with a third of the total amount going to each local government. As municipal and state governments throughout the country started suing manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, for losses brought on by the opioid crisis, Cobb initially joined the lawsuit in 2018.
The lawsuit claimed Rite Aid failed to properly monitor and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids from its retail stores and failed to put measures in place to prevent the diversion of prescription opioids, which led to an increase in opioid addictions, overdoses, and fatalities. Rite Aid says these failures were due to a lack of effective monitoring and reporting.
Rite Aid accepts the money without admitting any wrongdoing. Rite Aid will be required to advance the county's $1.25 million each if the insurers are unable to pay the $10.5 million total as soon as possible, despite the company's efforts to persuade them to do so. A federal judge chose Cobb's claim as one of many "bellwethers," or test cases, from a much broader body of litigation.
According to county attorneys, there were 1,430 plaintiffs participating in the lawsuit as of 2018. According to a document from the County Attorney, the case was scheduled to go to trial in 2019.
A committee has been formed by the county manager in the meantime to offer suggestions on how the cash should be distributed. The parties to the litigation are prohibited from discussing the settlement with the public or members of the media under the terms of the agreement.
The Rite Aid action, however, seems to be unrelated to another opioid deal the county entered into with a number of the biggest drug distributors in the country, as well as Johnson & Johnson, in November.
The state's consent to engage in the settlement was a requirement for Cobb's involvement. Attorney General made the announcement in January that Georgia will join the settlement, which would pay Georgia and its local governments $636 million and amounts to a $26 billion national settlement.
The Rite Aid deal comes as Cobb continues to have triple-digit drug overdose deaths each year. 180 individuals died of unintentional drug overdoses in 2020, more than in any of the five years before, according to the county medical examiner's most recent annual report, which is only available for the previous year.
Other opioids contributed to 93 deaths in total, 88 of which involved fentanyl. A considerable number of deaths in Cobb County are still caused by acute accidental drug intoxication. Nearly a quarter of the fatalities the (office) investigates are drug-related according to the medical examiner's findings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were over 92,000 overdose fatalities nationwide in 2020. Roughly 56,000 deaths involved synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, accounting for over 61 percent of all fatalities. The deal will be put to a vote by the Cobb commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at 100 Cherokee Street in Marietta.