Officials Agree: Use Settlement Funds to Curb Youth Addiction. But the ‘How’ Gets Hairy.

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Health

Video Reporter: Caresse Jackman, InvestigateTV; Video Editor: Scotty Smith, InvestigateTV

When three teenagers died of fentanyl overdoses last year in Larimer County, Colorado, it shocked the community and “flipped families upside down,” said Tom Gonzales, the county’s public health director.

Several schools began stocking naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses. Community organizations trained teens to use it. But county and school officials wanted to do more.

That’s when they turned to opioid settlement funds — money coming from national deals with health care companies like Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, and CVS, which were accused of fueling the epidemic via prescription painkillers. The companies are paying out more than $50 billion to state and local governments over 18 years.

Much of that money is slated for addiction treatment and efforts to reduce drug trafficking. But some is going to school-based prevention programs to reduce the possibility of addiction before it begins. In some cases, school districts, which filed their own lawsuits that became part of the national settlements, are receiving direct payments. In other cases, state or local governments are setting aside part of their share for school-based initiatives.

Many parents, educators, and elected officials agree that investing in prevention is crucial to address the rising rates of youth overdoses, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

“We have to look at the root causes,” said Diana Fishbein, a senior scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and leading expert on applying prevention science to public policy. Otherwise, “we’re going to be chasing our tails forever.”

But the question of how to do that is fraught and will involve testing the comfort levels of many parents and local officials.

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