Kern County among many that stand to gain from not-yet-resolved settlement with Purdue Pharma over opioid epidemic

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 BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Three of the nation’s major pharmaceutical distributors, along with drug-maker Johnson & Johnson, are nearing a $26 billion agreement with numerous states and municipalities that would settle thousands of lawsuits over those companies’ role in the opioid epidemic.

Resolution on another front,  the case against Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycodone, is further from finalization due in part to Purdue’s move into bankruptcy. But the case is making some progress, and Kern County is one of the California counties in line for a possible payout.

Cities, counties and the loved ones of those lost to opioid addiction have been waiting for pharmaceutical companies’ day of reckoning for a long time. That day is not upon us just yet but it’s getting closer.

On the heels of the announcement Tuesday in New York comes word that Kern County, too, may be getting a check. Kern is a party in a separate class action suit against Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycodone. We know little beyond that — county officials themselves aren’t sure when a settlement may come, or how much it might be.

County Counsel Margo Raison said Kern has a lot of company in the suit.

“Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the one that’s made it the farthest along in the proceedings, through bankruptcy proceedings, and the county is a member of a large group of public entities — states, counties and municipalities — that are a part of that suit,” she said.

Proceeds from any settlement would go toward addiction treatment and prevention services.

“A lot of the settlement agreements that are being discussed right now and are under consideration,” Raison said, “involve aspects that any settlement proceeds are to be used to combat opioid addiction — things that a community is doing and can continue to do to help solve that problem.”

Efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies and distributors financially liable has had a major effect on the once-easy availability of opioid painkillers. Diana Lee of Lee’s Pharmacy in downtown Bakersfield said her business, like all pharmacies, is under tight scrutiny.

“The volume has gone way down because of being more regulated,” she said. “(Regulators are) watching who prescribes, how many you prescribe, patients can get only so many opioids a month, so everything is counted down in milligrams. So, sometimes we get red-flagged if a patient is, like, going to multiple pharmacies, or getting too much. And then we either have to get a prior authorization or call the doctor and find out what’s going on. But before, say 20 years ago, you could get as much as you wanted any time. And no one cracked down.”

Not anymore.

The crackdown has a downside too. The tight restrictions on pharmaceutical opioids has been one of the driving factors in an explosion of illicitly manufactured, unregulated fentanyl, which killed tens of thousands in the U.S. last year, including more than 200 since January 2020 in Kern County alone. But any addiction services financed by a settlement with Purdue would presumably help those people as well.

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