DAVIDSON COUNTY — Davidson County staff was authorized Tuesday to sign a national agreement for counties seeking compensation for damages due to the opioid epidemic.

Three years ago, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners decided to retain counsel and to proceed with litigation. A long period of negotiation ensued, as Davidson was one of more than 3,000 counties and municipalities that pursued litigation against national opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Per the terms of the agreement, in North Carolina, 15% of the approximately $850 million will be apportioned directly to the state. The potential remains for 85% to be distributed among the counties.

Each county was apportioned a share of that 85%. Davidson County receives just under 2% of that county share, based upon population.

“It is the recommendation of the Association of County Commissioners that the counties jointly agree to this,” County Manager Chuck Frye said. “It’s very simple, because the more counties that agree to the common fund, the more that will be paid into the state. If counties say they want to go their own way with this, then monies will be withheld by the defendants to proceed with the defense of that separate litigation and potential judgments that occur against them.”

Two separate agreements now exist, one with the five distributors named in the litigation of which Davidson is a part. The second is with one of the manufacturers, Janssen, more commonly known as Johnson & Johnson.

The proposed settlements on a national level require that the distributors pay $26 billion over 20 years. The state of North Carolina has already signed the agreement. Now counties throughout the state are discussing whether to sign off on the terms of this litigation.

Davidson joined 53 other counties that have already signed a Memorandum of Agreement to maximize North Carolina’s share of the litigation agreement. The NC MOA will become effective when enough local governments have joined it to meet the support level required by one of the national settlement agreements.

Frye explained months ago that evidence-based addiction treatment, recovery support services, recovery housing, employment-related services, early-intervention programs, Naloxone distribution, post-overdose response teams, syringe service programs, criminal justice diversion programs, addiction treatments for incarcerated persons and re-entry programs are among the categories in which the county can spend the funding it receives.

“Those are items which the county can distribute monies to without having to speak to the state,” Frye said in August. “The good thing about this resolution is that it encourages you to be creative and to find issues that may be unique to your community and to take some of that pool of money and to spend it for that purpose.”

In 2016, researchers from the CDC estimated the annual economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. at $78.4 billion.

Last year, opioid overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000, an increase of nearly 30% over the prior year. From 2000-2019, more than 16,500 North Carolinians died from an accidental opioid overdose.

In 2018, the county board of commissioners weighed costs and benefits associated with the possibility of joining other counties in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors. The board joined the fight against opioid manufacturers and distributors in September 2018.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.