Addiction, healthcare groups warn not to repeat mistakes in spending opioid settlement funds

Addiction, healthcare groups warn not to repeat mistakes in spending opioid settlement funds

A coalition of addiction and healthcare groups, coordinated by faculty at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is urging state and local officials not to make the same mistakes they made in the 90s.

More than 30 professional and advocacy organizations are urging officials across the country to spend money derived from opioid settlements on prevention and treatment, rather than filling budgetary shortfalls like they did with tobacco settlement funds.

This week the coalition published its recommendations on what principles state and local officials should use in determining how to spend the more than $10 billion they could see as a result of lawsuits filed against drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies in response to the opioid epidemic.

“We are still deep in the midst of an overdose crisis,” said Joshua Sharfstein, MD, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened with the tobacco litigation settlements where the vast majority of the funds weren’t used to address the actual public health issue at hand.”

Since 1998, states have received payments from tobacco companies due to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. However, the coalitions said, year after year, states spend little on tobacco use prevention and cessation – by some estimates, as little as less than three percent.

“What is most critical with these settlement funds is that appropriate steps be taken to ensure that dedicated funds go towards high-quality, evidence-based treatment,” said Gary Mendell, founder and CEO, Shatterproof, a nonprofit dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States. “Equally important, is the need to invest in educating the public around substance use disorders to prevent youth from developing substance use disorders and to funding communities increasingly impacted by overdoses, who have also historically faced discrimination and racial inequality.”

Between 1998 and 2018, more than 450,000 people have died from opioid overdoses. As a result, more than 2,000 states, counties, and local organizations have filed suits against drug manufacturers, drug distributors, and pharmacies. Last year, the U.S Department of Justice announced it had reached an $8.1 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, over its role in the opioid epidemic.

“New dollars from the opioid litigation will help communities implement evidence-based programs, such as naloxone distribution and syringe service programs, that will reduce the number of people dying from drug overdoses,” said Monique Tula, executive director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition. “As they implement these principles, states, cities, and counties must include the voices of people who use drugs to make certain the programs and policies are designed to meet their needs.”