COLUMBUS, Ohio – The tattoos on Billie Stafford’s hands – inspired by street art and full of references to her work helping prevent drug-related deaths – have become an indelible memorial to the friend who got them inked and the opioid crisis that killed him in April.
As a panel begins to consider how to divide Ohio’s share of legal settlements with drugmakers and distributors, Stafford worries most members won’t bring the same burden of personal loss to their spending recommendations.
“They don’t have to come and write 20 names on a (memorial) wall because everyone is dying,” said Stafford, whose friend David Seymour died of an overdose and who co-founded a group that supports people who are dependent on opioids and their loved ones. those.
In the United States, recovering individuals and families of those who have died of drug overdoses fear they will not be heard on state-level panels recommending or deciding the use of colonies, which are worth more than 40 billion, according to an Associated Press tally.
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The money is seen as crucial to stemming a crisis that has deepened amid the coronavirus pandemic, with opioids implicated in most of the record 107,000 overdose-related deaths in the United States last year.
After money from the tobacco settlements of the 1990s was spent on laying fiber optic cables, repairing roads and other initiatives that had little to do with public health, the opioid deals were designed to direct most funds to tackling the drug crisis. The settlements list strategies the money can fund, including payment for the overdose drug naloxone; educate children about the dangers of opioids; expand screening and interventions for pregnant women; and helping people get treatment.
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State and local governments have some leeway, however.
New Jersey will receive $641 million as part of settlements with drugmakers sued for their role in the crisis. This regulation will be shared between the State and the municipalities.
New Jersey has opened an online portal through Oct. 31 through which people can submit comments on how the state’s share should be spent.
For those on a mission to stem drug deaths, the details matter. Advocates want to see the money used to make it easier to get treatment, to provide housing, transportation and other related services, and to provide equipment to test drug supplies for the opioid fentanyl synthetic implicated in many fatal overdoses.
Tonia Ahern, a Cape May County substance abuse recovery advocate, says the money should help fund mental health and trauma prevention services that help break addiction cycles. She finds the New Jersey model ideal for how others across the country should operate.
Ahern became a proponent of substance recovery after losing her son to addiction.
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“We focus so much on substances that it just doesn’t work,” Ahern said. “If it worked, we wouldn’t have anyone using drugs.
In addition to the $641 million settlement, the state will receive $66 million in federal grants to be used for opioid abuse prevention.
Katie Faldetta, executive director and CEO of Cape Assist, a Cape May County-based addiction treatment nonprofit, agrees that the focus should be on prevention services.
County and municipal officials should work together to strengthen both, she said.
“That’s really the way to get that money to go the furthest for everybody,” Faldetta said.
In Ohio, critics say the voices of those most affected aren’t being sufficiently reflected on the OneOhio Recovery Foundation board that makes spending decisions. Only a few of the 29 members revealed personal experiences – one identifying as someone in recovery for decades, one as the parent of someone with addiction and two who said they knew people with addiction. an addiction. Most members are government officials. Only one is black.
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“At this time, we have no say and no representation as to how this money is going to be used to help us,” said Nathaniel Jordan, executive director of the Columbus Kappa Foundation, which works with low-income communities. income and black, where opioid overdoses have increased.
An advocacy group sued the nonprofit OneOhio Foundation in August over concerns about its transparency. OneOhio later said it would voluntarily follow public meetings and public records laws that govern public agencies. The trial remains pending.
Nevada has included members of the recovery community such as Debi Nadler on the board advising the state on the more than $300 million it should get. “My real thinking is that it’s a show of dogs and ponies,” said Nadler, who founded the group Moms Against Drugs after her son died of an overdose.
Terry Kerns, substance abuse and law enforcement coordinator for the Nevada attorney general’s office, said the group is influenced by people in recovery and those who work with people who use drugs — and some people named to seats not reserved for those who have used opioids. are also recovering. “I think there’s probably more than adequate representation,” he said.
Advocates say the changing nature of the opioid crisis with the rise of fentanyl makes it important to listen to people who use drugs now.
“I’ve been in recovery for years,” said Courtney Allen, the organizing director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, who was appointed to a settlement advisory board in her state. “The addiction crisis of eight years ago was very different from the addiction crisis of today.”
AtlantiCare will distribute free naloxone on Wednesday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.
In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers believed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration had failed to educate law enforcement enough because it planned to spend $31 million on settlement funds. So a GOP-led committee this month eliminated proposed funds for family support centers and cut other areas to set aside $3 million for public safety, including inmate treatment. .
The issue has also been central to the campaigns of political candidates ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Jesse Heffernan, who is in recovery and co-owner of an addiction recovery services business, said the changes were made without the open input and research that went into the original plan. “When it becomes a partisan issue, communities lose out,” he said.
Pressure from advocates for influence has changed the situation in some states.
New York officials announced in July that the Opioid Fund’s advisory board would make recommendations on all settlement funds after initially indicating the group would have no say in most $240 million and more expected this year.
Editor Eric Conklin contributed to this report.