Credit: K-State Research and Extension

Santa Barbara County could reap up to $40 million over the next 15 years in settlement payments from manufacturers and distributors of opioid-based medications — think Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, CVS, and Walgreens, plus many others — as part of a statewide settlement ranging in estimated value from $738 million to $1.8 billion.

Santa Barbara County’s cut is estimated somewhere between $17 and $40 million. Of that, 15 percent will go to the outside counsel hired by the county supervisors to prosecute this case, Keller Rohrback. The litigation, which played out in a federal courthouse in Ohio, involved allegations of unfair competition and false advertising by opioid makers and marketeers who distributed “large volumes of opioids in Santa Barbara County despite knowledge of the growing epidemic caused by opioid misuse and failing to prevent and report suspicious opioid orders as required by State and Federal law,” according to an account issued by the County Counsel’s office.

Aside from legal fees, these funds must be spent on opioid abatement programs. Santa Barbara County, like every other jurisdiction, has experienced a deadly and devastating blurring of the lines that traditionally have separated legal and medically prescribed drug consumption and the illegal consumption of outlawed substances. Many who have become addicted to illegal substances started out taking legally prescribed medications, the addictive properties of which were intentionally understated and misrepresented for marketing purposes. Last year, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported 168 drug overdose deaths, of which 115 were from fentanyl. In 2020, the number of overdose deaths was 113, with just 37 being fentanyl-related.


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