RUTHERFORDTON —Rutherford County is a step closer to ultimately receiving a large amount of funding to combat opioid addiction.

Rutherford County commissioners on Monday approved a resolution, adopting a “memorandum of agreement,” (MOA), between the county and the state. The document provides for the equitable distribution of any proceeds from a potential settlement of national opioid litigation to the State of North Carolina and to individual local governments.

Though a settlement is not certain, officials anticipate that a settlement is forthcoming, according to the resolution.

The resolution points out in part, that “as of 2019, the opioid epidemic has taken the lives of more than 16,500 North Carolinians, torn families apart, and ravaged communities from the mountains to the coast.”

The COVID-19 pandemic compounded the opioid crisis, increasing levels of drug misuse, addiction and overdose death. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the total economic burden of the prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion per year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

Rutherford County’s involvement in attempting to recover funds to combat the opioid crisis began four years ago, when it was among the first handful of counties who filed lawsuits against the drug producers. These local governments were later joined by others, and the litigation became a “class action” lawsuit involving all 100 counties.

“In March of 2016, the FDA recognized opioid abuse as a public health crisis that has profound impact on individuals, families and communities nationwide,” said County Manager Steve Garrison. “Rutherford County along with other North Carolina counties and municipalities joined a consortium of national litigants in 2017 to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributers.”

The North Carolina Attorney General’s office also became involved in the litigation efforts.

“More than four years ago, we took a proactive approach to the opioid crisis in Rutherford County, a crisis that was caused by others,” said County Commission Chairman Bryan King. “We are hopeful for a settlement.”

The amount Rutherford County could receive is not yet known.

“Funds directly expended to the local governments will likely be conditional on these funds being utilized for predetermined, specified programming and specific opioid addiction-related expenditures,” Garrison said.

King added, “the settlement funds could be a significant investment in our community, to address the opioid crisis...for treatment and prevention.”

Officials hope potential settlement funds will enable the creation of new programs as well as strengthen existing opioid/substance addiction treatment programs.