Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday declined to endorse a statewide opioid settlement proposed by Attorney General Ken Paxton that would result is a $7 million payout locally.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that for now, the County is moving forward with its lawsuit, asserting the pharmaceutical industry and its affiliates knowingly profited by concealing the dangers of opioids from consumers, and will continue with its scheduled hearing on Friday. 

“We are concerned that a state-controlled settlement would mean that we don’t have any control of the funding, and there is not a lot of confidence in the state government right now,” Wolff said. “The amount of money we would potentially receive is also nothing compared to the cost of the situation.”

Under the proposed settlement terms between the State of Texas and attorneys for counties and cities and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors, opioid distributors would pay $19.2 billion nationally over an 18-year period, while Johnson and Johnson would pay at least $4 billion.

Wolff told the Rivard Report that the settlement negotiated would be dispersed in roughly $400,000 increments annually over 18 years.

Texas is expected to receive approximately $1.5 billion, most of which would be divided among all 254 Texas counties, regardless of whether they participated in the litigation.

“A global settlement means the pharmaceutical companies don’t have a bunch of trials going on all at once, and they don’t have to hear the testimonies from people who have been impacted by opioid abuse and addiction,” Mayes said. “If we go to trial, we can prove how hundreds of millions have been spent and punitive damages can be assessed on top of that.”

The Watts Guerra law firm, which jointly filed the County lawsuit with Phipps Deacon Purnell in May 2018, also is one of six law firms representing Texas in the global settlement. Attorney Mikal Watts said Paxton’s office asked the firm to provide documentation of the time and money Texas firms have spent prosecuting opioid manufacturers to inform the settlement figure, which will ultimately reduce lawyer fees from 35 to just over 9 percent.

The settlement terms proposed are the first among many that will be introduced as pharmaceutical companies work to avoid as many individual trials as possible, T.J. Mayes, a junior partner at Phipps Deacon Purnell, said, noting a more attractive settlement might be worth entertaining.  

Meanwhile, the $1 billion in damages Bexar County is seeking from opioid manufacturers and distributors for the impact the opioid epidemic has had locally will do more to address the ravaging, which include 1,369 opioid-related deaths between 2011-16, and more than 3,025 babies born addicted to opioids between 2009-16, Wolff said. 

Bexar County stands to bring in more money by going to trial, Mayes said, because of the work being done locally to address the epidemic, including developing the Joint Opioid Task Force. The task force is a City/County conglomeration of public health experts, medical and pharmaceutical professionals, first responders, policymakers, public school district representatives, and social services agencies, whose goal is to create effective strategies to combat the opioid crisis on a local level.

Wolff said Bexar County is better off “not settling for pennies on the dollar” in a global settlement when the crisis itself “cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in suffering and everything else.”

“What worries me is who is in charge of these funds,” Wolff said. “We have a broad and diverse legal team on our side and we want a trial to maximize the County’s funds to help pay for the horrible local outcome.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.