Oak Harbor receives nearly $1 million from opioid settlement

Oak Harbor and Island County are receiving funds, but don’t have specific plans on how to spend them.

Oak Harbor and Island County have started receiving funds from a state settlement in one opioid-related lawsuit, but neither has specific plans on how it should be spent.

Oak Harbor’s share will be $955,000 while the county gets nearly $1.5 million. The funds will be distributed over 17 years.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said settlements of other lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, retailers, marketers, opioid makers and doctors are unresolved and could result in more money for the city and county. As a result, county officials are allowing the funds to accumulate until they have a better handle on the final amounts.

“We want to develop a strategy that will have the greatest impact and not just start spending,” Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said.

Capt. Tony Slowik with the Oak Harbor Police Department gave a presentation to the Oak Harbor City Council last week about the settlement funds. The city will have about $102,000 collected by the end of the year.

Slowik explained that the city agreed to a memorandum of understanding that makes it a direct receipt of a share of funds and a member of the North Sound Opioid Abatement Council, along with Island County, four other counties and 20 municipalities. Oak Harbor is the only city in Island County to receive funds.

In addition, the memorandum describes how the funds can be used, which is essentially treatment, prevention and other strategies that include law enforcement, Slowik explained. The opioid abatement council is charged with auditing and reporting in order to ensure that the funds are spent according to the agreement.

Slowik said staff recommends a transparent review and approval process for the use of the city’s funds. A website can be set up so that people can keep track of the funds and how they are spent. City departments will be able to submit proposals for use of the funds, which would go to the finance department and then the city council.

Slowik advised that the police department plans to present a proposal.

The lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors and others allege that the companies created the current opioid addiction crisis by touting the benefits of the pain medication without disclosing the risks.

Slowik presented data about how fatal and non-fatal overdoses have increased in the county. Fatal overdoses increased by 60% since 2019, he said.

Banks explained that the county is involved in two opioid lawsuits. The Multidistrict National Prescription Opiate Litigation is a consolidation of hundreds of lawsuits from local jurisdictions against many different defendants that contributed to the epidemic in different ways.

The case was complicated, he said, by the fact that the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed his own lawsuit against many of the same defendants. Ferguson announced a half-billion-dollar settlement with three distribution companies last year. The money is being split between the state and local government.

Other defendants remain unresolved. Some have filed for bankruptcy protection while others have pending trials or negotiations.

A second lawsuit is against McKinsey and Company. Banks explained that the company provided consulting services to some of the “big pharma” companies and is alleged to have helped concoct the plans for mass marketing of known highly addictive substances.

In addition, the county may someday receive some of the money from the Purdue Pharma settlement, which is currently held up in the U.S. Supreme Court.