Josh Stein

Attorney General Josh Stein announced on Feb. 4 a $573 million settlement with a consulting firm that helped push the opioid pandemic.

RALEIGH — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced a $573 million settlement with consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its role in boosting the sale of opioids.

The settlement, announced Feb. 4, includes the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and territories. North Carolina will receive roughly $19 million which Stein said will go toward combating the opioid crisis.

“We’re going to work with leaders across the state to use those funds to deal with the consequences of this crisis and the range of options available to us are very wide,” Stein said. “It includes things like funding treatment centers or funding county paramedics who do responses for overdoses or treatment programs and county jails.”

Stein said McKinsey worked for 15 years as a consultant for Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family who founded Purdue Pharma.

“Purdue Pharma didn’t dream up all of its ideas on its own on how to push its pills,” Stein said. “No, it paid global consulting firm McKinsey handsomely for 15 years to design marketing plans to help it sell more pills to more patients and increasing potency for longer periods of time.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction. Taking too many prescription opioids can stop a persons breathing and lead to death.

Since 1999, more than 750,000 people have died from a drug overdose, according to the CDC. In 2018, two out of three drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Last year, Stein said about 2,000 people died due to an opioid overdose.

“The sad truth is that there are many, many, many counties in North Carolina that have had devastating impacts from this crisis, and we will make sure that the funds are distributed fairly across the state,” Stein said.

According to data obtained by the Washington Post in 2019, more than 3.4 billion prescription pain pills were supplied to North Carolina between 2006 and 2014. According to the data, there were 14,251,093 prescription pain pills, enough for 31 pills per person per year, supplied to Watauga County during that time period.

In March 2018, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to join other North Carolina counties in suing the distributors and manufacturers of opioid pain killers in a separate lawsuit.

At the meeting, commissioners were presented with a chart by Garry Whitaker of Garry Whitaker Law in Winston-Salem that showed a listing all 100 N.C. counties and the opiate death totals for each year since 1999, based on a survey by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of December 2019, about 70 counties from around the state had joined the lawsuit. In 2019, Whitaker told the Watauga Democrat that the county is like many North Carolina counties — as well as governing bodies from other states — that are in a “holding pattern” and likely will be for the foreseeable future.

“The cases are still pending on a multi-jurisdictional basis, many of which have been slowed by bankruptcies of a number of defendants and issues related to the coronavirus pandemic for the past year,” said Anthony di Santi, Watauga County’s attorney. “It is anticipated that eventually a settlement will be reached with the distributors and manufacturers of the opioids, but it will likely be some time in the future.”

Whitaker and lawyers for the county have not returned a request for information related to the case as of publication.

Watauga County experienced 64 opiate-related deaths from 1999 to 2016, according to the chart that was shown at the 2018 meeting.

In December 2020, McKinsey issued a statement regarding its work with Purdue Pharma saying “we recognize that we did not adequately acknowledge the epidemic unfolding in our communities or the terrible impact of opioid misuse and addiction on millions of families across the country.”

McKinsey claimed their work was designed to support the legal prescription and use of opioids for patients with legitimate medical needs.

“Any suggestion that our work sought to increase overdoses or misuse and worsen a public health crisis is wrong,” McKinsey said in its statement. “That said, we recognize that we have a responsibility to take into account the broader context and implications of the work that we do. Our work for Purdue fell short of that standard.”

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