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What a judge's decision in lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors means for Forsyth County

By Nick Watson and Alexander Popp, 

Along with thousands of other cities and counties, Forsyth County will be making some decisions in the coming months regarding opioid lawsuit negotiations.

In the Northern District of Ohio, U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster certified a negotiating class Sept. 11 regarding the multi-district opioid litigation between local governments and drug manufacturers/distributors. Forsyth County is a possible member of the class and has the option to opt-out, with the deadline being Nov. 22.

“From the outset of this [multi-district litigation], the Court has encouraged the parties to settle the case. Settlement is important in any case. Here, a settlement is especially important as it would expedite relief to communities so they can better address this devastating national health crisis,” the judge wrote.

The law firm Napoli Shkolnik PLLC of New York, N.Y., has been hired to represent Forsyth County in the litigation.

Napoli Shkolnik PLLC attorney Shayna E. Sacks said that at this point they cannot speculate on whether Forsyth County will opt in or out of the negotiating class.

"We are exploring all options and determining the best strategy for Forsyth going forward, and will of course always look out for their interests," Sacks said.

Napoli Shkolnik PLLC will represent about 200 other entities in the litigation, according to Sacks.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has embarked on a multibillion-dollar plan to settle thousands of lawsuits over the nation's deadly opioid crisis by transforming itself in bankruptcy court into a sort of hybrid between a business and a charity.

Whether the company can pull it off remains to be seen, especially with about half the states opposed to the deal.

The pharmaceutical giant filed for bankruptcy late Sunday, Sept. 15, step one in a plan it says would provide $10 billion to $12 billion to help reimburse state and local governments and clean up the damage done by powerful prescription painkillers and illegal opioids like heroin and fentanyl, which together have been blamed for more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades.

The plan calls for turning Purdue into a "public benefit trust" that would continue selling opioids but hand its profits over to those who have sued the company. The Sackler family would give up ownership of Purdue and contribute at least $3 billion toward the settlement.

It will be up to a federal bankruptcy judge to decide whether to approve or reject the settlement or seek modifications.

Two dozen states plus key lawyers who represent many of the 2,000-plus local governments suing the Stamford, Connecticut-based company have signed on to the plan.

But other states have come out strongly against it, arguing it won't provide as much money as promised, that the Sacklers are getting off easy and that the family has extracted a fortune from the company and hidden it away in shell companies and Swiss bank accounts.

An allocation map was created online to give an idea of what counties and cities might receive under a settlement. The allocation was decided on three factors: the amount of opioids distributed within the county, the number of opioid deaths in the county and number of people suffering from opioid-use disorder.

Based on a hypothetical $1 billion settlement, the total allocation value for Forsyth County would be $298,570, with the initial distribution being shared between the county and “all incorporated municipalities.”

“The county and the cities within the county will have the opportunity to reach agreement on how the county-level allocation will be shared amongst them,” according to the multi-district litigation allocation website.

If no agreement is reached, the default intra-county allocation would give $291,314 to Forsyth County and $7,256 to Cumming.