States and their subdivisions participating in national litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors began to receive their first payments from settlements last year.
Local governments are now beginning to consider how best to use these funds to address the harm already done and invest in prevention and reduction strategies.
According to a Nov. 7, 2022, memorandum from former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, the state received a combined total of more than $60.4 million in base and incentive payments earmarked for Fiscal 2023 under the Distributors and Janssen National Settlement Agreements.
Under these settlements, Anne Arundel will receive an estimated $4.38 million in Fiscal 2023, Howard County will receive $1.7 million, and the City of Laurel will receive $55,372.
Howard County received approximately $230,000 in December 2022 and is expected to receive $12.3 million over the next 15 to 20 years, while Anne Arundel County is expected to receive roughly $30 million.
Howard County’s settlement payments will be deposited into an Opioid Abatement Fund established by the county.
On Jan. 31, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball signed an Executive Order creating an Opioid Collaborative Community Council that will help determine priorities for using these funds and any money from still unresolved settlements tied to other lawsuits.
“It’s important that our community has input into how those funds can best be used to prevent future opioid misuse,” Ball said.
Efforts to combat opioid addiction have seen measured progress in Howard County, where fatal opioid overdoses fell from a high of 47 in 2020 to 31 in 2022, a 34% decrease. Meanwhile, nonfatal overdoses fell from a high of 188 in 2018 to 111 in 2022, a 41% decrease.
Barbara Allen, chair of the OCCC, knows the cost of opioid addiction, having lost a son, two brothers and a niece to what she labeled a scourge.
“I don’t want money for that loss,” Allen said. “What we’re looking for is hope and healing. I’m glad the funds are going to help people who are currently suffering [by supporting] educational programs, treatment, pre-screenings and things like that.”
So far, she said, Howard County is the only Maryland jurisdiction that has convened a group of community representatives to help make decisions on how to invest its settlement funds.
“This brings together police, fire and rescue, our detention center, hospitals, health care providers and community,” Allen said. “We learn from one another. Sometimes you don’t have a playbook, you have to create it.”
Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said the city has received $19,776 since December as part of its settlement.
“I think it’s important that we ensure that our police officers have NARCAN and the training to use it to help people who have overdosed,” he said. “We’re not sure yet what else we will invest in, but there are limits to what we can use it for.”
Moe would also like to see the city explore opportunities to create partnerships with the Laurel Medical Center, education, and other community organizations.
“This is something we’ll be talking about at an upcoming Mayor and City Council meeting, and the public will be able to provide input during that meeting,” he said.
Renesha Alphonso, spokesperson for Anne Arundel County, said the county administration is interested in using its funds to support the county’s opioid addiction prevention and intervention efforts, but no specific decisions have yet been made.
Just the beginning?
Howard County’s settlement amount amounts to considerably less than Anne Arundel County’s, but that doesn’t indicate that the problems were any worse or any better in either jurisdiction.
“Anne Arundel’s population is nearly three times the size of Howard County’s, so even if things were equal they would have more affected individuals,” said Howard County Health Officer Maura Rossman.
According to information provided by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office regarding settlement payments, the State receives 30% of all base and incentive payments for deposit in an opioid restitution fund and another 45% of base and incentive amounts from which it makes targeted abatement grants from the ORF to local abatement funds according to a formula that takes into account population as well as the level of opioid-crisis-related need in each jurisdiction.
“It’s not often that we have funding coming down, which the county worked hard to get, so this is really important,” Rossman said. “We still have far too many opioid overdoses, but this collaboration will continue to decrease that number and expand access to treatment resources and services.”
Local jurisdictions anticipate that future settlements against other opioid manufacturers and distributors may increase the amount of funding they receive.
“I’m hopeful that in the spring or summer of this year there will be more settlements,” said Howard County Solicitor Gary Kuc. “There are at least four or five other suits that still haven’t been completely adjudicated.”