As more than $50 billion makes its way to state and local governments to compensate for the opioid epidemic, people with high hopes for the money are already fighting over a little-known bureaucratic arm of the process: state councils that wield immense power over how the cash is spent, NPR reports. In 14 states, these councils have the ultimate say on use of the money, which comes from companies that made, distributed, or sold opioid painkillers, including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart. In 24 other states, plus Washington, D.C., the councils establish budget priorities and make recommendations. Those affect whether opioid settlement funds go, for example, to improve addiction treatment programs and recovery houses or for more narcotics detectives and prisons. KFF Health News, along with Johns Hopkins University and Shatterproof, a national nonprofit focused on the addiction crisis, gathered and analyzed data on council members in all states to create the first database of its kind.
When people know who sits on these councils, they can see who is and is not represented and how that affects the way money is spent. The data show that councils are as unique as states are. They vary in size, power, and the amount of funds they oversee. Members run the gamut from doctors, researchers, and county health directors to law enforcement officers, town managers, and business owners, as well as people in recovery and parents who've lost children to addiction. "The overdose crisis is incredibly complex, and it demands more than just money," said Rollie Martinson of the nonprofit Community Education Group, which is tracking settlement spending across Appalachia. "We also need the right people in charge of that money." More than $3 billion of opioid settlement funds has already landed in government coffers, with installments to come through 2038. The money is meant as restitution for hard-hit communities and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from drug overdoses in recent decades.