County needs to choose lump sum or payments for opioid settlement 

Marathon County is slated to receive payments via a settlement from a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies — but county leaders will need to decide how they want to receive it. 

Marathon County in 2017 agreed to sign on with a number of Wisconsin counties — 71 of the 72 counties in the state — and several municipalities in a class action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis. 

But it’s not as simple as the company sending a one-time check, explains Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs. The county is slated to receive a share of the settlement from three companies — one will pay out over eight years, the other two will pay over 18 years. 

Wisconsin Counties Association officials have been discussing whether to take the money as prescribed, or take a securitized payment — a lesser payment made all at once. Though less, the money would be guaranteed. If one of the companies went out of business or declared bankruptcy any time in that 18 years, the county might not get all its money. 

Restrictions on the money say it has to go toward addressing the impacts of the opioid crisis. According to the lawsuit, pharmaceutical companies covered up the side effects of the pain medications they pushed on doctors and hospitals, and created an epidemic of drug-addicted people. Some of those people, once cut off from pain meds, turned to other drugs such as heroin. That increase impacts many areas of the county, including social services, the sheriff’s office and North Central Health Care among many others. 

Besides the potential for not receiving all the payments, money received much later would have decreased buying power due to inflation, Gibbs points out. 

The settlements are only one part of the lawsuit. There are three parts, Gibbs explained: manufacturers, distributors and retailers.