FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Next year, Florida communities could start seeing some of the dollars from a large settlement against pharmaceutical companies blamed for fueling the opioid pandemic.
The city of Fort Pierce is the latest to approve moving forward with a plan that lays out how much money cities and counties will receive from the roughly $1.6 billion heading to Florida, part of a $26 billion national settlement.
Attorney Eric Romano is representing Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County.
“We represent a few dozen cities and counties around the state,” Romano said. “Florida, particularly South Florida, has seemed to be kind of the epicenter of the opioid epidemic,” Romano said.
That's why Romano said Florida should expect to receive about 7% of settlement money moving forward, as 50 states and thousands of local communities have filed suits against companies like Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, and other large manufacturers and distributors.
Florida communities, with the Florida attorney general's office, have spent more than a year drafting a memorandum of understanding to create a unified plan for how the money will be distributed over 18 years.
“One concern we all had was that governments don’t take the money from the opioid settlement and use it for other projects,” Romano said. That's why the MOU also lays out how the money should be used, such as supporting treatment options, giving to community groups, education, and connecting people with resources.
Romano said the rough estimates for Fort Pierce are $16,000-$31,000 per year and $41,000-$76,000 per year for Port St. Lucie.
He also estimated between $369,000 and $685,000 for St. Lucie County. According to Romano, these funds are to be used throughout the county, so each city should benefit from them.
Romano added that these are only rough estimates and they are likely to fluctuate depending on many factors.
“Personally, I think it should go to victims, advocates, people who have survived overdose. People who have survived treatment center abuse,” said John Nelson, Founder of Familiesrecover.org.
He hopes some of the money given to local governments could benefit his nonprofit.
“We’re going to look into it,” Nelson said.
The money will start being paid out, according to Romano, by late 2022.
While Nelson feels the settlement is only a drop in the bucket for the large companies, he’s hopeful it helps curb the opioid epidemic.
“It's still rampant. It's full-blown,” Nelson said.
The settlement also calls for businesses to change their business practices, restrict sales and marketing of opioids, limit lobbying, and make sure procedures are in place to make sure they don't fall back into the same patterns of conduct.