Maybe I’ll buy a penthouse condo or take a round-the-world cruise or buy a cup of latte at Starbucks. What are you going to do with your share of the loot?

I am referring, obviously, to the billions to be handed out by the Sackler family. Here’s a brief rundown to put you up to speed.

The opioid crisis is an epidemic, even though deaths have declined slightly, from about 49,000 in 2017 to 47,600 in 2018. A prime supplier of Oxycontin, an opioid pain medication sometimes called a narcotic, is Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family. They have a net worth estimated at $14 billion, but the New York attorney general has found $1 billion the family hid in Swiss banks.

Facing thousands of lawsuits, the Sacklers folded. The agreement between the family and about half the states and attorneys — others are holding out for more — representing roughly 2,600 local governments, forced Purdue to file for bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time, with about $3 billion coming from the Sackler family itself. In addition, the family would give up its company and contribute another $1.5 billion by selling another of its pharmaceutical companies, Mundipharma.

Texas is among the states that have agreed to the settlement. More than 1,400 people in Texas died from overdoses involving opioids in 2017. The number of such deaths has been increasing steadily in Texas over the past 20 years, with the bulk resulting from prescription opioids.

For spending guidelines, we turn to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history. This court settlement between 46 states (some states settled separately) and the District of Columbia with the major tobacco companies provided for annual payments to the states of $206 billion over the first 25 years and the payments continue indefinitely. In turn, the states promised to spend the funds on ads, specifically aimed at young people, telling them about the evils of smoking, plus medical costs of caring for the 16 million Americans who have smoking-caused illnesses.

But the settlement agreement did not require that it be spent for a particular purpose. Guess what? In Fiscal Year 2019, the states will collect $27.3 billion from the settlement and taxes. But they will spend just 2.4 percent of it — $655 million — on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

Colorado has spent tens of millions of its share to support a literacy program, while Kentucky has invested half of its money in agricultural programs. South Carolina gave 15 percent of settlement funds to tobacco farmers affected by the drop in prices for their crop, while North Carolina used 75 percent of its settlement funds for tobacco production. Some went to private tobacco producers, covering tobacco-curing equipment, a tobacco auction hall, video production for a tobacco museum and plumbing for a tobacco processing plant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended states spend about $3.3 billion per year on tobacco prevention and education, but the states budgeted a little less than 2 percent, or less than $500 million. For every dollar the states got from the tobacco settlement, two cents were spent on preventive programs. How about Texas? The CDC reported that Texas:

Ranks 44th among the states in spending the money as promised.

Rakes in $1.933 billion in a total tobacco payments and revenue.

Spends on tobacco prevention: $4.2 million, which is 1.6 percent of the CDC’s recommendation of $264.1 million

More stats on Texas tobacco to consider before lighting up:

Estimate annual tobacco marketing in Texas: $652.4 million

Adult Texans who smoke: 3,287,300 (15.7 percent)

High school students who smoke: 181,200 (11.3 percent)

Death caused by smoking each year: 28,000

Annual health costs directly caused by smoking: $8.85 billion

Texas residents’ state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures: $747 per household

As for Purdue Pharma’s payout, none of it will go to individuals, but to various governments. Just what Texas will do with its loot is not known — maybe farm out treatment centers, so set up your own string of Texas Anti-Opioid Clinics. Buy some ads, hire “doctors” (their doctorate can be a PhD in history), then stand by to collect. If you don’t, someone will.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at

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Its always about the money

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