Towns’ portion of RI’s opioid settlement to go toward efforts to address the crisis

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Northern RI – This week’s announcement that Rhode Island will join a national opioid settlement and receive more than $90 million in funding to address the crisis also comes with news for the state’s cities and towns, with some $750,000 to be directed to northern communities over the next 18 years.

The state-specific deal, announced Tuesday, Jan. 25 by Attorney General Peter Neronha and Gov. Dan McKee, resolves Rhode Island’s litigation against the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen — for the companies’ roles in the opioid epidemic. 

Under the terms of Rhode Island’s deal, the state will also receive millions in additional funds from the distributors to compensate for litigation of the case. Together with the settlement against manufacturer Johnson & Johnson for $21 million and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for $2.5 million, Rhode Island’s opioid litigation recoveries reportedly total more than $114 million.

The agreement provides all 39 Rhode Island cities and towns with direct funding from the settlements. Payments to the municipalities and state will commence almost immediately, and state officials have estimated the total each community can expect to receive over the length of the agreement, with funds to be dedicated exclusively to opioid abatement programs and efforts.

Burrillville is expected to receive a total of $55,952 from Johnson & Johnson, and another $241,109 from the big three distributors. In North Smithfield, the amounts are $47,633 and $205,263 respectively over 18 years, and in Glocester, $35,869 and $154,568.

“No amount of money will ever be enough to undo the harm suffered by Rhode Islanders throughout the ongoing opioid epidemic,” said Neronha of the news. “But through this settlement, we can bring in much-needed funding to the state and municipalities to respond to the challenges brought on by this epidemic, which have grown particularly acute during the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

In communities like Burrillville that already have programs dedicated to prevention and addiction recovery, it seems easy to decide how the funding will be spent.

“In our case we’re already running the services,” Town Manager Michael Wood told NRI NOW, pointing to two programs that operate under the umbrella of the Burrillville Police Department: the Burrillville Addiction Assistance Program and the Burrillville Prevention Action Coalition. “It will be going into the fund we use to pay for the programs,”

Both BPAC, which aims to engage youth and promote healthy lifestyle choices and BAAP, which offer outreach to those coping with addiction, were formed in response to a surge of overdose rescues and deaths in the town in 2018. The programs have largely been credited with helping the town to avoid some of the recent surges in overdose deaths.

Wood noted that while the town’s settlement allocation will not be enough to fully fund the programs, it will supplement grants, and help to cover the expense in the years going forward.

Glocester has a similar program dubbed GAAP or the Glocester Addiction Assistance Program, with a team of local counselors and addiction specialists ready to help those on a journey to recovery with one to one peer support, family/parental support, in-patient/out-patient Detox placement and counseling meetings.

But it is less clear how communities such as North Smithfield, where no such organization currently exists, will spend their share.

“We’ll look at best practices that other communities have been able to initiate,” said Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski. “Once we learn what works, we’ll try to put that into place.”

“I think what we should focus on is education, prevention, treatment and programs for families effected by opioids,” Zwolenski added.

The administrator said that as a start, he hopes to offer a town-sponsored seminar on administration of Narcan.

The state will keep the vast majority of settlement funds, also directing the money to coordinated approaches to addressing the epidemic across all 39 communities. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, 384 Rhode Islanders died in 2020 after accidentally overdosing on drugs – the highest year on record – and there were 361 overdose fatalities last year.

“As governor, I am committed to working with our local leaders, the Attorney General and others to not only hold big drug manufacturers accountable, but to ensure our communities have the treatment and recovery recourses they need.” said McKee.

The recent settlement follows a deal reached by the same distributors and 45 other states in July 2021, but Rhode Island’s agreement ensures the state’s will receive the funding regardless of whether the global settlement proceeds. 

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