PASCO COUNTY, Fla. -- After years of litigation, $26 billion could be on the way to help state and local governments nationwide struggling with the opioid epidemic. It's a proposed settlement Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office called "historic.'

What You Need To Know

  • State and local governments are mulling a proposed $26 billion settlement against opioid manufacturers

  • Fourteen states are involved in agreement, including Florida, California, and New York

  • Head of Pasco-based Alliance for Healthy Communities says any money that comes to that county to be spent on prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts

  • "Critical mass" of participants need to sign on for deal to be ratified

"I recognize that no amount of money will bring back those lost, but Florida and its subdivisions will receive more than a billion and a half dollars under these agreements to pay for prevention, treatment and recovery related services," Moody is quoted as saying in a news release.

According to Moody's office, Florida overdose deaths rose to a record 93,000 in 2020 -- almost 30 percent higher than the year before. More than 7,500 Floridians died of opioid overdoses last year -- a higher number than any other state except for California. Florida could see a total of $1.6 billion in proposed settlement funds from the "big three" pharmaceutical companies of Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, as well as Johnson & Johnson.

"I was extremely proud of the hard work that several different organizations across the entire United States put into this effort on behalf of Americans," said Dr. Lauren Bates, executive director of the Pasco County-based Alliance for Healthy Communities.

While significant, Bates said this is a first step in helping communities recover from the opioid epidemic, which she said has led to two million people in the U.S. living with substance use disorders.

"In Pasco County specifically, that reaches our population from newborns, who are born addicted to substances, all the way up to cancer fighters in our community, our geriatric population, our veterans, our adolescents and young adults, who are accessing medication that was never intended for them, and for people in our community who needed a legitimate prescription for something and then became addicted," said Bates. "I don't know a single person in our community who has not been touched by opioid use or potential misuse by themselves personally or someone that they know."

Bates said the alliance and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office have budgeted for any funds that do come to the county to be spend on prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts. It could be awhile before they know whether money is definitely on the way.

Attorney Jim Magazine is local counsel for Pasco, Hernando, and Pinellas Counties and the city of St. Petersburg in the national opioid litigation. He said the amount of the proposed settlement has been discussed for nearly a year. According to Magazine, the issue now will be whether the 14 states and multiple local governments involved agree to sign on to the deal. Information released by the attorney general's office states a "critical mass" of participants need to agree in order for the deal to be ratified. 

"I think that the Florida attorney general and the cities and counties that I represent and the cities and counties that others in the state that I know represent, I think are on board," said Magazine. "But I can't speak for, you know, the rest of the nation."

Magazine said the proposed settlement is not only a long time coming, but also just the beginning in the legal fight against the opioid industry.

"There's other manufacturers that are still in the case, the pharmacies are still in the case. So, this is just a partial settlement of this national case," said Magazine.

The attorney general's office said states have 30 days to sign onto the deal and local governments have 150 days to join.