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Advocates Worry Cities Will Not Use Opioid Settlement Funds Wisely

Settlement money to help stem the decades-long opioid addiction and overdose epidemic is rolling out to cities and towns across the U.S., but advocates worry that chunks of it may be used in ways that don’t make a dent in the crisis. As state and local governments decide how to use the money, advocates say local governments may not have the bandwidth to take the right steps to identify their communities’ needs and direct their funding to projects that use proved methods to prevent deaths. Opioids have been linked to 800,000 deaths in the U.S. since 1999, including more than 80,000 annually in recent years, with most of those involving illicitly produced fentanyl.


Drugmakers, wholesalers and pharmacies have been involved in more than 100 settlements of opioid-related lawsuits with state, local and Native American tribal governments over a decade. The deals, some not finalized, could be worth a total of more than $50 billion over nearly two decades and also come with requirements for better monitoring of prescriptions and making company documents public, the Associated Press reports. States alone fought the tobacco industry in the 1990s and used only a small amount of the money from the resulting settlements on tobacco-related efforts. "We don’t want to be 10 years down the road and say, ‘After we screwed up tobacco, we trusted small government with opioids — and we did even worse,’” said Paul Farrell, Jr., one of the lead lawyers fpr local governments in the opioid suits. He said that with settlement money rolling out for at least 14 more years, there’s time for towns to use it appropriately, and resources to help. The goal, experts say, is to help those who are taking opioids to get treatment, to make it less likely people who use drugs will overdose and to create an environment for people not to take them in the first place. The major opioid settlements, which include deals with Walgreen Co., CVS Health, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and one with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that is before the U.S. Supreme Court, require that most of the funds be used to combat the crisis.

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