Editorial | Johnson County should accept opioid settlement offer

A new settlement offer coincides with release of over-the-counter medication for opioid overdose. The county has the chance to take action against the existing epidemic.


Matt Sindt

Photo illustration by Matt Sindt

DI Editorial Board

Johnson County has an opportunity to act against the opioid epidemic.

Between 2018 and 2020, opioid-related deaths in Iowa increased by 54 percent, according to the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports opioids as the main driver of drug overdose deaths.

The pharmaceutical companies Teva and Allergan, along with the pharmacies Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart have offered a substantial settlement offer for an ongoing lawsuit. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes it is in the best interest of Johnson County that the Board of Supervisors accept the settlement.

In 2018, 35 counties in Iowa — including Johnson County — sued five major opioid manufacturers for claims of deceptive marketing and sales practices. The municipalities involved in the lawsuit sought reimbursement costs associated with fighting the epidemic and other unspecified damages.

Johnson County received $600,000 from a settlement in 2021. This new settlement could bring Johnson County up to $2.95 million over the course of the next 15 years. The supervisors will vote on whether to accept the settlement on Thursday.

This settlement was introduced on March 29. On the same day, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The medication naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan, is a 4-milligram hydrochloride nasal spray.

“Overdose persists as a major public health issue in the United States, from October 2021 to October 2022 more than 101,750 reported fatal overdoses occurred,” Johnson County Public Health said in a statement to the DI. “Naloxone, or Narcan, has been utilized in our community by law enforcement, first responders, and health care workers to help save lives of individuals experiencing an overdose. Having this resource readily available at the individual level over the counter will absolutely save lives. Opioid use and addiction is a complex public health issue, and while we do the long-term work to resolve it, this is an excellent tool to have in our toolbox.”

The new regulations for Narcan make the drug more accessible to people experiencing opioid addiction. The difficulty will be getting this drug into the hands of people.

The FDA is currently working with drug companies to increase the availability of this drug. One obstacle to making these drugs available to the public is cost. With the new litigation settlement, Johnson County can get this drug into the hands of the people who need it most.

If the supervisors accept this offer, Johnson County will begin receiving settlement claims in 2028. This gives Johnson County almost five years to begin preparing to disburse funds to counteract opioid use in Johnson County.

Once Narcan becomes available for public use, Johnson County can utilize settlement funds to purchase and distribute Narcan. In addition, money from these funds can be used for rehabilitation programs for existing users, drug treatment programs, and other resources for people with addiction.

The Midwest and Northwest regions of the U.S. experience the highest rates of opioid use in the country. Even tucked in the corn belt, Iowans are dying from opioid overdose.

Action should have been taken years ago against the manufacturers who made these drugs too accessible to vulnerable populations. But that time has gone, and our best action now is to deal with the issue at-large.

The DI Editorial Board believes this litigation settlement brings new hope in battling this epidemic. We strongly urge the Johnson County Board of Supervisors — V. Fixmer-Oraiz, Jon Green, Lisa Green-Douglas, Royceann Porter, and Rod Sullivan — to accept this offer.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.