Parker County Courthouse

WEATHERFORD — Parker County commissioners Monday agreed to join other entities in the state regarding an opioid litigation settlement with Johnson & Johnson.

In July, Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that Texas had joined a $26 billion, multistate opioid settlement with the country’s three major drug distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — as well as drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. 

The distributors, which are supposed to monitor prescription drug shipments, are accused in hundreds of lawsuits of turning a blind eye while pharmacies across the country ordered millions of pills for people over the last two decades. Johnson & Johnson is accused of downplaying the addictive properties of its opioid products to doctors as well as patients.

Attorney Jeffrey Simon, outside counsel of the law firm Simon Greenstone Panatier, said the opioid pandemic has done countless harm to the nation, state and the county, and thanked the county on the opportunity to be a part of litigation.

"To put a number to it, there are over 70,000 opioid overdose deaths every year in America," he said. "What we as a community can do about it, what you are doing about it, is holding those companies financially accountable for their role.

"Today is an important first step with respect to one of the manufacturers who engaged in this misconduct ... and again, I thank and commend you for the opportunity to visit with you, and allowing me to assist you in this important work."

From 1999 to 2019, nearly half a million people died from overdoses involving opioids, including prescription drugs and illegal street opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, opioid overdose deaths hit a record high of more than 93,000. All four companies participating in the settlement have denied wrongdoing.

Under the agreement, the three distributors would pay up to $1.17 billion to the state and the localities that opt in to the agreement over 18 years. Johnson & Johnson would pay up to $268 million over nine years. The state has been among the leaders in negotiating the deal with the four companies.

Most of that money is targeted for opioid abatement, as the crafters of the agreement try to avoid following in the steps of 1998’s Big Tobacco settlement, in which very little of the funds were spent on smoking prevention and public health efforts.

It was unclear what amount Parker County would receive, and a message left for County Judge Pat Deen Monday afternoon was not returned by press time.

The Texas agreement has approved uses that include treatment and prevention, such as the increased distribution of naloxone or other drugs that reverse opioid overdoses and the programs that will block the overprescription and misuse of opioids.

In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement would bar Johnson & Johnson from manufacturing, selling and promoting opioids for 10 years. The company stopped marketing opioids in the United States in 2015 and stopped producing them last year.

The agreement also would establish a clearinghouse to track and report the distributors’ opioid shipments, an effort to detect suspicious orders.

To enter into the settlement, a locality — even one that hasn’t filed a lawsuit — would have to surrender its ability to sue the four companies. Currently, more than 128 Texas political subdivisions are pursuing court cases against them. It would not bar them from litigating against other pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors or retailers.

North Texas cities like Plano and Allen are among those that have opted in, as well as Dallas and Collin counties.

Commissioners Monday also moved forward with reinstating membership with the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition after a three-year hiatus.

Victor Vandergriff, executive director of the TRTC, said the coalition's goal is to influence and push transportation plans forward that "make sense for the future."

"It's going to get you no matter what you do," he said in referencing growth in North Texas. "But how does that look? How do you go forward with what you need to grow appropriately? That's what I help with."

The county had previously had representation on the coalition, but memberships with TRTC and other entities was eliminated because of budget challenges, Deen said.

The coalition's funding comes from dues of its private and public sectors, including Wise, Tarrant and Denton counties. The city of Hudson Oaks also has representation, and is the only entity in Parker County at this time.

Membership is $5,000 annually, and had previously been paid out of the county's transportation bond funds.

Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley stressed the timely need for improvements to Interstate 20, though Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Dugan said he was concerned about adding more partners to take care of issues that should be taken care of by the Texas Department of Transportation and North Central Texas Council of Government.

"It's not a lot of money if you get results, but it's like we're hiring more chiefs than we have indians," he said.

Commissioners Monday also approved two change orders for phases five and six of the East Loop, including guardrail and culvert work to Farm-to-Market Road 730, in the amount of $50,526, and a temporary closure to a turn lane off Highway 180, work for an asphalt drainage ditch and pavement overlay, in the amount of $56,659.

Because the county is administering the project, the funding and approval will now come from TxDOT after commissioners' votes, Chris Bosco of Freese & Nichols told the court.

In other business, the commissioners also:

• Approved representatives with the district attorney's office, Parker County Sheriff's Office, Weatherford PD, Freedom House, Safe Harbor Counseling and John Peter Smith for membership on the Parker County Sexual Assault Response Team. District Attorney Jeff Swain expressed his interest in adding Willow Park Police Chief Carrie West as well.

The entity helps put together protocols for law enforcement during and after any sexual assault cases they may respond to.

• Authorized Mark Long, director of Buildings and Grounds, to hire an engineering firm, at a cost not to exceed $6,500, to review damage inside the building housing the county attorney's office. A structural engineer did a walk through in 2018, noting two walls were compromised and a basement wall supporting the first floor had failed.

Later improvements to the roof eliminated the problem of leaks, and Long said Monday that after reviewing the ceiling further, he was encouraged that it wasn't as bad below as it was above.

"We have to do something, or it's going to deteriorate," he said.

• Approved moving the medical examiner's offices to the office of emergency services at 215 Trinity St., and allow the office of emergency services to use the former medical examiner's office for storage.

• Made a proclamation for the week of Nov. 7-13, 2021 as Veterans Week in Parker County.

Trending Video

Recommended for you