With more than 200 Americans dying of drug overdoses each day, states are beginning the high-stakes task of deciding how to spend billions of dollars in settlement funds from opioid manufacturers and distributors. Their decisions will have real-world implications for families and communities that have borne the brunt of the opioid crisis, reports KFF Health News. Will that massive tranche of money help the people who suffered the most and for programs shown to be effective in curbing the epidemic? Or will elected officials use the money for politically infused projects that will do little to offer restitution or help those harmed? A local group that advocates for people affected by the opioid epidemic is suing the OneOhio Recovery Foundation for a lack of transparency, even though few decisions about funding priorities have been made yet.
The strife in Ohio highlights the tensions nationwide as settlement funds start flowing. The funds come from a multitude of lawsuits, incliuding a $26 billion settlement resulting from 3,000 cities, counties, and states suing manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health for their roles in the opioid crisis. Payments began this summer and will continue for 18 years, setting up what public health experts and advocates call an unprecedented opportunity to make progress against the epidemic. They caution that each state seems to have its own approach to these funds, including different distributions between local and state governments and various processes for spending the money. With many individuals and groups advocating for their share of the pie — from those dealing with addiction and their families to government agencies, nonprofits, health care systems, and more — the money’s impact could depend heavily on geography and politics. The worst-case scenario may be for the opioid settlement to end up like the tobacco master settlement of 1998. States won $246 billion over 25 years, but under 3 percent of the annual payouts are used for smoking prevention or cessation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Most has gone toward filling budget gaps, building roads, and subsidizing tobacco farmers.