Making the Most of Opioid Settlement Funds: How Local Government Officials Can Make the Biggest Impact in Their Communities
Leaders must assess needs, build relationships early and choose evidence-based strategies to meet prevention and recovery goals
By: Greg Puckett, County Commissioner, Mercer County, W. Va., and Executive Director, Community Connections, Inc.
Earlier this year, the nation’s top drug manufacturer and three major distributors finalized settlements that will soon infuse $26 billion into state and tribal governments to combat the opioid epidemic. Much of these funds are earmarked for programs designed to alleviate the impact of opioid misuse, including prevention, treatment and recovery services.
County officials and local government leaders have an important role in securing funding for resources and programs that will make the biggest impact in their communities. Treatment and recovery efforts are an obvious focus for many, but primary prevention cannot be overlooked. An investment in evidence-based prevention methods is essential to stop opioid misuse before it starts and lessen the downstream impact of opioids on our healthcare, public safety and community resources.
Opioid dependence often starts in the home medicine cabinet, and so should our prevention efforts. Many organizations have successfully implemented at-home drug deactivation and disposal campaigns to educate individuals about the role of proper drug disposal in preventing unused pills from contributing to misuse and overdoses.
To make the most of opioid settlement funds, it’s essential to understand how the funds will be distributed, the role of local governments in securing funding, and how to implement impactful prevention programs like at-home drug deactivation and disposal initiatives that fit the needs of your community.
How will opioid settlement funds be distributed?
Settlement fund distribution will vary by state. Most states have enacted legislation that sets forth the terms of the disbursement, including the creation of a dedicated fund and a commission or council responsible for overseeing its allocation.
To understand how funds will be disbursed, the first step is to reach out to your state attorney general and your state office of drug policy. These entities can help answer questions about when the funding is coming, how it will be dispersed, what types of programs are eligible for funding and the process for applying for funds.
You can also check the Opioid Settlement Tracker for a useful overview of states’ opioid settlement allocation plans.
The Role of Local Government: “Drawing Down the Dollars”
Your role at the county level is to assess your jurisdiction’s needs and help ensure funding is allocated to evidence-based strategies that meet those needs.
Use the following 4-step plan:
- Listen to experts in your community with first-hand experience of the opioid crisis. Meet with local coalitions and community-based mental health centers to understand the scope of the opioid problem in your area. Conducting a needs assessment can help you determine what’s working, the challenges and barriers to success, and gaps in resources.
- Create a plan of action. Use what you’ve learned to formulate a plan for how funds should be used in your community. For example, in Mercer County, W. Va., we focus on primary prevention and invested in a statewide Medication Disposal Campaign to provide the Deterra® Drug Deactivation and Disposal System to individuals for safe, at-home medication disposal. The disposal pouches destroy drugs – including opioids like fentanyl – and are safe for the environment. We’ve distributed more than 200,000 pouches statewide with the help of law enforcement, healthcare providers and coalitions. The campaign helped us engage with the community, educate about the risks of opioids and provide an effective, convenient solution for our largely rural county.
- Gather evidence and support for your strategy. Once you’ve determined the what of your strategy, be prepared to show why. Similar to other funding opportunities, you’ll need to provide support for your plan and how this funding will help meet your goals. In the case of Deterra, we could show that similar programs have worked in other counties through case studies and use evidence from the Deterra Grant Guide to make the case for including this resource in our plan.
- Establish relationships and offer solutions. Reach out to establish relationships with key decision-makers as soon as possible. Get to know the staff in these offices and offer insight on how to meet the needs of your community. Come prepared to offer your personal perspective and potential solutions to address the issues you’ve identified.
Next steps for opioid settlement funds
Local leaders are uniquely positioned to influence how opioid settlement funds will be spent and to ensure these dollars are allocated to evidence-based strategies.
A focus on prevention is critical to turn the tide on the opioid crisis. Understanding the needs of your community, establishing relationships with the entities overseeing settlement fund distribution and making a sound case for proven prevention resources like Deterra will help you ensure the best outcome.
Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett (far right) and local leaders collaborated on a statewide drug disposal campaign.
About the Author
Greg Puckett was elected County Commissioner for Mercer County, W.Va., in 2014. As the current Executive Director of the nonprofit Community Connections, Inc., Greg advocates for public policy change, supports local coalitions and oversees community-driven prevention, treatment and recovery programs. He serves on the board of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and as Chair of the NACo Rural Action Caucus. Greg was one of ten county officials on the NACO Opioid Taskforce. He serves on the Board of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), where he is a past recipient of CADCA’s National Advocate of the Year award.
Learn more about how organizations nationwide use Deterra to make a difference in the fight against prescription drug misuse.
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