Northeast Ohio local governments are weighing whether to join Attorney General Dave Yost’s One Ohio plan for dividing state opioid settlement money from drug companies.
The proposal would create a statewide foundation, run by both state and local appointees, to distribute 55 percent of any settlement dollars. Another 30 percent would go directly to local governments. The attorney general’s office would receive 15 percent.
Yost had asked local governments to make up their minds by March 6. In a statement Wednesday, his office said it “won’t shut the door” on cities and counties that join the effort after the deadline.
“Critical mass is going to be determined by the defendants,” Yost told the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. “Do they want to come to the table to talk to Ohio? I would say today we don’t have enough to get them to the table for an Ohio discussion.”
Summit County is among those communities still mulling the proposal, assistant chief of staff Greta Johnson said. County leadership is “cautiously optimistic” that talks with the state are moving in the right direction after last year’s disputes with Yost over opioid litigation, she said.
“There is very much a sense from the local leadership that local leaders, both community and elected, know best how to treat their communities,” she said.
Summit and Cuyahoga counties were the first local governments to receive settlement money from drug manufacturers and distributors last year.
The One Ohio plan would not involve those settlements, nor would it touch settlements between individual counties and drug companies, according to a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
The plan has received support from the team of lawyers representing Summit, Cuyahoga and thousands of other plaintiffs in federal court.
“We are encouraged by the progress made to finalize the One Ohio framework that will ensure the fair and transparent distribution of opioid recovery settlement funds,” the attorneys said in a written statement. “Towns and cities across Ohio have led the charge for months working with Governor DeWine, Attorney General Yost, and other local officials to develop a comprehensive blueprint to meet the needs of communities around the state.”
Other Ohio communities are ready to embrace the plan. Elyria City Council voted on Monday to endorse it.
“It’s a united front,” attorney Brian Balser, who represents the city in opioid litigation, told ideastream. “The Buckeye State has been hit hard. The opioid crisis doesn’t stop at the Elyria-Lorain municipal lines.”
County government leaders generally sound positive on the proposal, County Commissioners Association of Ohio policy analyst Adam Schwiebert said.
Local governments may face a time crunch to make a decision, as litigation around the country increases pressure on drug companies to settle. New York State’s opioid trial is scheduled to start March 20. The state of Ohio’s lawsuit heads to trial in Ross County in August.
“Counties also realize that the clock’s ticking on the ability for them to weigh in,” Schwiebert said. “We have states and other local governments that have trials that are set to start here pretty soon, and we may see settlements from those entities very soon. And that will absorb a lot of the pool of available resources.”