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Officials Spend Opioid Settlement Funds On Police. Is That Right?

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Policing expenses mount quickly: $25,000 for a Colorado law enforcement conference about fentanyl; $18,000 for technology to unlock cellphones in Connecticut.; $2,900 for surveillance cameras and to train officers and canines in New Lexington, Oh.. In other communities, hundreds of thousands for vehicles, body scanners, and other equipment.

In these cases and many others, state and local governments are turning to opioid settlement cash to pay those expenses.

This money —more than $50 billion across 18 years — comes from national settlements with more than a dozen companies that made, sold, or distributed opioid painkillers, including Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, and Walmart, which were accused of fueling the epidemic that addicted and killed millions, reports KFF Health News.

Directing the funds to police has raised questions about what the money was meant for and whether such spending truly helps save lives.

In most cases, state and local governments must spend at least 85% of the cash on "opioid remediation."

If a new cruiser helps officers reach the scene of an overdose, does that count?

The money shouldn't be spent on "things that have never really made a difference," like arresting low-level drug dealers or throwing people in jail when they need treatment, says Brandon del Pozo, a former police officer now at Brown University researching policing and public health. He adds, "you can't just cut the police out of it. Nor would you want to."

With fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, flooding the streets and more than 100,000 Americans dying of overdoses each year, some people argue that efforts to crack down on drug trafficking warrant law enforcement spending. Others say the war on drugs failed and it's time to emphasize treatment and social services.

Each decision — whether to fund a treatment facility or buy a squad car — is a trade-off. The settlements will deliver billions of dollars, but that windfall is dwarfed by the toll of the epidemic. Increasing funding for one approach means shortchanging another.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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