Summit County allocates first round of opioid settlement funds primarily to treatment
Behavioral health officials propose using the other 40% for prevention
Summit County received nearly $150,000 this fiscal year as part of a nationwide opioid settlement against four defendants from the pharmaceutical industry with the majority of the funds going toward treatment and the remainder allocated for prevention.
The first round of payments was received in July and are expected to be distributed over 18 years, averaging around $70,000 per payout. Summit County was awarded around $1.3 million as part of the settlement with Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson, with Utah receiving a total of $266 million.
Half of the overall settlement goes to the state with the remaining funds to be divided among the counties that participated in the negotiation. Each state’s share of the $26 billion agreement is determined by population, which also determines how much is allocated to the counties.
Aaron Newman, the director of behavioral health at the Summit County Health Department, met with the Summit County Council on Nov. 9 for a work session to discuss how the opioid settlement funds should be used. The county received two payments, for $61,856 and $86,309, which can be used for substance abuse prevention, education and treatment.
A group of stakeholders including representatives from the Summit County Attorney’s Office, the Health Department’s behavioral health division, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the Summit County Recovery Foundation and the Huntsman Mental Health Institute began meeting in May to review how the funds could be used and to identify what would have the greatest impact for county residents, according to a staff report.
The settlement lists allowable uses as well as core strategies including Naloxone distribution and usage training, expanding services for opioid use disorder among pregnant and incarcerated people including treatment for conditions caused by withdrawal in newborns, improving or creating recovery or prevention programs, research and more.
Supportive housing, training for law enforcement, medication-assisted treatment and other prevention programs were key takeaways from the local discussions. They proposed using 60% of funds from the first year to address treatment. This could include expanding wrap-around programs and services to people diagnosed with opioid use disorder, or a co-occurring substance abuse disorder/mental health condition, to include housing, transportation, education, job placement or training and childcare during treatment. Medically assisted treatment, when medication is used in combination with counseling and behavioral therapy to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, was also proposed in the Summit County Jail.
The remaining funds, around 40%, would go toward prevention. The group wants to support stigma reduction efforts for people going through treatment or living with opioid use disorder. They also want to train law enforcement in pre-arrest diversion programs, post-overdose response and similar strategies designed to connect at-risk individuals with behavioral health services and support, according to the staff report.
Newman expects the funding plan will rotate to allow for sustainable usage of the money. Unused funds can be rolled over to the next fiscal year. Summit County expects to receive $75,549 in 2023 and could be awarded additional funds through the Utah Office of Substance Use and Mental Health.
It’s possible the county may receive more funding in the future. Summit County is involved in 18 lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.
“It’s just a start but it’s exciting to begin programming,” Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said when the settlement was first announced. “This isn’t taxpayer money but money from the people who started this crisis.”
Summit County became the first county in Utah to file a lawsuit against several of the country’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors in 2018. Olson, after taking office in 2017, pursued litigation against the companies for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
In total, 27 of Utah’s 29 counties joined the settlement.
Hanson was scheduled to be sworn in during a special County Council meeting on Tuesday. After she’s confirmed, Hanson anticipates a warm welcome and a full workload.
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