A Rural County’s Choice: Use Opioid Funds to Pay Off Debt, or Pay Them Forward to Curb Crisis

by | May 16, 2023 | Health

Over the past two years, rural Greene County in northeastern Tennessee has collected more than $2.7 million from regional and national settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors. But instead of helping people harmed by addiction, county officials are finding other ways to spend it.

They have put $2.4 million toward paying off the county’s debt and have directed another $1 million arriving over more than a decade into a capital projects fund. In March, they appropriated $50,000 from that fund to buy a “litter crew vehicle” — a pickup truck to drive inmates to collect trash along county roads.

“It’s astounding,” said Nancy Schneck, a retired nurse who has seen addiction infiltrate the community, where employers avoid drug testing for fear of losing too many employees and mental health crises and homelessness are rampant. She wants to see the money go toward mental health and addiction treatment. Why can’t county leaders “see treating some people and maybe getting them out of this cycle might be advantageous?” she said.

In 2021, the latest year for which comparable data is available, Greene County’s rate of drug overdose deaths topped state and national figures.

But Mayor Kevin Morrison said the county has borne the costs of the opioid epidemic for years: It has funded a beleaguered sheriff’s office, improved the jail — which is packed with people who’ve committed addiction-related crimes — and supported a drug court to divert some people to treatment. It has also suffered indirect costs of the crisis: people dropping out of the workforce due to addiction, schools and welfare services caring for more children who’ve experienced trauma, and some taxpayers leaving the county altogether. Addiction is not the sole reason for Greene County’s economic woes, but it has contributed to more than $30 million of debt.

Greene County, Tenn., is directing some o …

Article Attribution | Read More at Article Source

Share This