The Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership
By Colin Jorgenson
AAC Litigation Counsel
All 75 Arkansas counties and most Arkansas cities and towns have been engaged since 2018 in litigation against opioid companies, seeking compensation to implement solutions to the Arkansas opioid epidemic. Several of the defendants have finalized or are close to finalizing national settlements and state-specific settlements. Multiple defendants have filed bankruptcy in response to litigation across the country, and we are also pursuing the counties’ claims in those bankruptcy proceedings. The unity of Arkansas governments has been beneficial in these settlement discussions, as it has been from the start in the united Arkansas opioid litigation.
I have written in the past about the Arkansas Opioids MOU and your vision for abatement of the Arkansas opioid epidemic. In July 2021, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) Executive Director Chris Villines, and Arkansas Municipal League (AML) Director Mark Hayes, all signed the Arkansas Opioids MOU. The MOU includes an equal split of Arkansas settlement dollars among the state, counties, and cities — 1/3 of every Arkansas dollar is allocated to the state, 1/3 of every Arkansas dollar is allocated to cities, and 1/3 of every Arkansas dollar is allocated to counties. The unified, equal split among the governments of Arkansas remains an excellent result for the people of Arkansas, as I explained in the Fall 2021 issue of County Lines.
In that Fall 2021 update, I also wrote about potential settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors. As of this writing, there are two national settlements, two bankruptcy plans, and an Arkansas-specific settlement, that will provide settlement payments into Arkansas, to be used as set forth in the Arkansas Opioids MOU. These settlements and bankruptcy plans as of this writing will provide over $200 million in total abatement funds for Arkansas across 18 years (for the longest settlement) — and there may be additional settlements to come. Arkansas will begin receiving payments later this year.
We (your lawyers) have explained that opioid litigation settlement dollars will be subject to court supervision, and can only be spent for future programs, projects, and strategies to end the Arkansas opioid epidemic. This is as it should be. We have explained the importance of unity of local governments in both the litigation and the abatement phases of this case, to do the maximum good you can do with the limited resources and funds at your disposal from these settlements.
We have been having these discussions, and preparing for abatement of the Arkansas opioid epidemic, for a long time. No county or city has objected, and most Arkansas counties and cities have specifically authorized the AAC and AML Directors to work together to build an appropriate structure and process for management and disbursement of county and city opioid funds. The directors have begun doing exactly that.Thanks to the unity of Arkansas counties and cities, the Arkansas Opioids MOU, and the QSF, Arkansas counties and cities are ready to receive opioid settlement funds — before the payments begin. This is no small accomplishment. And more importantly, we are preparing for abatement so we will be ready to use the opioid settlement funds as quickly as possible, to help as many of your people as possible, in the most effective ways possible.
Directors Villines and Hayes have already made what may be their most important decision regarding the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership (AORP). It is time to begin the important work of studying the Arkansas opioid epidemic and making recommendations regarding programs and strategies to abate the Arkansas opioid epidemic in a manner consistent with approved purposes, settlement agreements, and court orders approving settlements and bankruptcies. The AAC and AML, through their directors and boards, have agreed to jointly hire a director of AORP, and jointly fund any additional staff, personal benefits, and related costs, to begin this important work — even before the settlement funds begin to flow.
Directors Villines and Hayes knew exactly who they wanted for this job, and Kirk Lane agreed to take the position effective Aug. 22, 2022. Lane served with national distinction as State Drug Director from 2017 until August 2022. He also served many years as Chief of the Benton Police Department, before becoming State Drug Director. In his resignation letter to Gov. Hutchinson, Lane wrote: “This position has opened my eyes to the serious issues that substance use disorder creates, and how it has entrenched itself in everything we do. Most importantly, it has made me more determined to get in front of it to defeat it.”
AAC Director Villines wrote about the hiring of Kirk Lane as director of the unique county-city partnership:
“We are excited to announce the formation of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership, a united venture between Counties, Cities and Towns in Arkansas. It is a partnership between the Arkansas Municipal League and Association of Arkansas Counties that represents an unprecedented, united front between the representatives of local government. Especially exciting is the fact that Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane has decided to direct this partnership as we move forward…
We expect to receive settlement funds this year, and when they come in we must have a plan. Every dollar needs a name and a wise and sound commitment to fight opioid addiction in Arkansas. Hiring Kirk Lane now is critically important to building this plan and he has a proven track record and experience which will prove invaluable in managing what will likely be a multi-year stream of settlement funds. This is not a situation of Kirk Lane leaving his passion, it is simply a re-engagement from a different perspective and our local governments in Arkansas are going to be thrilled with his leadership and vision.”
Everyone involved in the yearslong effort of this litigation is thrilled about where we’re at now, and where we’re headed.
We (your lawyers) will continue to pursue the opioid industry, marshal settlements into Arkansas, assist with building the structure and process for abatement, and represent your interests in this litigation wherever that takes us — so a united Arkansas can bring the cavalry to help the communities, families, and addicts of Arkansas.