More than $50 billion in settlement funds is being delivered to thousands of state and local governments from companies accused of flooding their communities with opioid painkillers that have left millions addicted or dead.
That’s an enormous amount of money — double NASA’s budget and five times the revenue of an NBA season.
But how that massive windfall is being deployed and how future dollars will be spent seem to be shrouded in mystery. Reporting requirements are scant, and documents filed so far are often so vague as to be useless.
Most of the settlements stipulate that states must spend at least 85% of the money they will receive over the next 15 years on addiction treatment and prevention. But defining those concepts depends on stakeholders’ views — and state politics. To some, it might mean opening more treatment sites. To others, buying police cruisers.
Those affected by the opioid epidemic and those working to fight it have an array of ideas: To Marianne Sinisi, who lost her 26-year-old son, Shawn, to overdose in western Pennsylvania, the settlement funds are “blood money” that she hopes can spare other parents similar grief. To Steve Alsum, who works with people who use drugs in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it’s a chance to finally reach all those in need. And to David Garbark, who is in recovery from opioid addiction, it’s a way to give others in his eastern North Carolina community a second chance, too.
Sinisi wants opioid settlement dollars to be spent in ways that help spare ot …