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A bill could unlock opioid settlement money in Oklahoma, allowing millions to be disbursed to local governments

With an opioid addiction crisis that shows no sign of abating, how we describe addiction and dependence matters.
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Oklahoma was one of the first states to successfully sue drugmakers for their role in the opioid epidemic.

Oklahoma was one of the first states to successfully sue drugmakers for their role in the opioid epidemic, but almost none of that money has been spent so far.

Now, a bill moving through the legislature — SB1275 — could change that.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers settled lawsuits with the state in 2019, agreeing to pay about $300 million total. State leaders promised $25 million of that money to local governments to invest in recovery programs and other services.

In 2020, the legislature created a board within the Attorney General’s office to decide who gets what, but it's been in gridlock since. The dispute: local governments started their own lawsuits — before they knew whether the state was going to file any. They want to use some of that funding to cover the attorney fees, but current law doesn’t allow it.

"So the AG hasn’t made those distributions. They’ve been waiting on this to be passed to be actually able to award those grants," said Sen. Brent Howard (R-Altus), the bill's author.

Howard's bill passed unanimously off the Senate floor on Tuesday, so it’s about halfway to becoming law.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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