Opioid-related deaths increased by 35 percent in Iowa in 2020
DES MOINES — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said Monday he wants financial proceeds from settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors named in multistate lawsuits to be directed toward treatment, recovery and abatement efforts to address addictions that claimed at least 213 lives in Iowa last year.
“My goal has always been to use this additional money in the best possible way to deal with this enormous crisis epidemic that has harmed so many people and was totally unnecessary,” Miller said in an interview.
Miller was actively involved in several settlements reached in recent months, including a $26 billion agreement with three major opioid distributors — Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — and Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured and marketed opioids, and a $4.3 billion settlement with the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, that will generate money to help bring relief to people across the country struggling with opioid addiction.
While there are still areas of the complex agreements to be finalized, the Iowa attorney general said he believes things are progressing to a stage where Iowa will begin receiving $15 to $20 million initially sometime in 2022 as part of a multiyear effort to abate an opioid crisis the defendant drug companies helped create in Iowa and across the nation with false and deceptive claims and marketing.
“There is still a lot of things to be done but it’s hopefully crossing the Rubicon,” he said.
To that end, Miller said his office has been working with officials in the state Department of Public Health, counties, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and others to begin shaping a strategy to identify the addictions Iowans are dealing with and tailor ways to treat complex features of the opioid crisis — while recognizing that the lawsuit proceeds won’t come close to meeting the needs of Iowans trying to overcome addictions to prescription drugs, heroin or fentanyl.
“One of the things we should do with the money is just find out as best we can the degree and the source and the type of addictions in Iowa. That’s something that I would advocate,” he said.
Miller noted that the settlement agreements provide that the proceeds have to be used for abatement purposes. Initially, he said, a national administrator will sign off on the settlement money and make sure the planned use by Iowa officials fits within the intended uses.
“We want to make sure that the benefits from the additional money are spread out throughout the state, that everybody in the state has a chance to benefit from this,” the attorney general said. “We hope that this can be a model for dealing with an addiction.”
Opioid-related deaths increased by 35 percent in Iowa in 2020, following a national trend that has advocates raising the alarm about the surge. State officials reported 213 opioid-related deaths last year, up from the 157 deaths reported in 2019 and a previous high of 206 in 2017.
Miller said his office is negotiating with state public health officials and Iowa county attorneys on how to proceed with the settlement money. Discussions also have taken place with UIHC officials to use up to $3.5 million for training using telemedicine for doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants that focuses on federally approved medication assisted treatment and concentrating on complex cases.
“We believe that there are a number of people who could quit completely through treatment and that’s the optimum, that that’s what we want,” Miller said, “but we think there are many others who can’t and we think the (medication assisted treatment) is a very viable alternative and we’re going to work towards that.”
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