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States debate how to spend opioid settlement money

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Opioid overdoses nearly quadrupled in the U.S. from 2010 to 2021, according to the National Institutes of Health. Now, drug companies are set to pay billions for promoting painkillers that fueled those overdoses. 

State and local leaders are in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the National League of Cities this week and talked about how best to spend that money.

Mark Hayes has seen the effects of the epidemic firsthand.

“My son died from a fentanyl overdose in April of ’20. He died quite literally 30 feet from me,” Hayes said during a panel discussion.

Hayes is the Executive Director of the Arkansas Municipal League and serves on the leadership team of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership, which helps distribute Arkansas’ share of the $26 billion settlement with drug manufacturers.

“We now have monies from those bad actors to begin to attack this problem,” Hayes said. 

The multi-billion-dollar payout from opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson was finalized in early 2022.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall secured more than $800 million for his state over the next decade. He says the spending will depend on local needs–maybe on the anti-overdose drug Naloxone or maybe on expanding drug courts.

“And that’s the beauty of this settlement. It was flexible enough to allow for local officials to decide what’s best for them,” Marshall said. 

Dothan Alabama Mayor Mark Saliba wants his city to increase funding for first responders and education for young people.

“I think we have to start looking at solutions that prevent this from getting out of hand before it gets out of hand,” Saliba said. 

The $26 billion payout is the first national opioid settlement, and as of June 2023, cities, counties and states have secured more than $50 billion in settlement payments.

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