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Muncie Opts Out Of State Opioid Settlement Talks To Continue Own Lawsuits

By Stephanie Wiechmann, IPR News | Published on in Government, Law, Local News
Indiana ranks 11th in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions per 100 people, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo: CDC)

The Muncie City Council has opted-out of receiving any potential settlement money the state of Indiana gets from suing pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis.  But as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, the city is making the move so it can negotiate for itself.

 

In 2017, Muncie was one of the first cities in Indiana to announce it was suing opioid distributors and pharmacies that pushed addictive drugs across the US.  At that time, then-Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said 82 percent of the city’s general budget was devoted to public safety because of problems created by opioid addiction.

Now, more than 50 local governments in Indiana also have similar lawsuits pending.  That’s why a new state law requires those municipalities to “opt out” of any state settlement funds.

City attorney Ben Freeman says the state law is complicated.  With any money Indiana gets from suing these companies, only 15 percent goes to cities and counties.  Muncie would only see a small portion of that.

“If there is a settlement, the state will control 85 percent of the distribution of those proceeds.  Cities and towns, counties, will have no say in the matter.  The remaining 15 percent will only be distributed according to county population.  So, the largest population centers are going to control the most of that small 15 percent of what’s left.”

Freeman advised the council to opt-out, so the city could independently negotiate with the several companies it’s suing.  Local addiction service advocates have been campaigning for in-patient services to help Muncie residents.  Any settlement money coming to Muncie could help with that.

The council voted unanimously to opt-out.  But Republican councilwoman Ro Selvey suggested the council consider opting back in later this summer – as state law allows.  She says she heard different details about the state settlement from the state attorney general’s office that would give cities and counties a bigger portion of money.

“Even if we get $10,000 from that settlement, that’s money one drug rehab center or 10 people can get help.  So, to me, any money is better than nothing.”

Freeman says if too many local governments like Muncie opt-out of the state settlement, it might incentivize the legislature to consider a different agreement that would give cities and towns a bigger portion.