Sep 8, 2022 - News

Using settlement money to fight the opioid crisis

A drug pill half-filled with money.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Local officials are expanding tools to address the opioid crisis while considering how to invest hundreds of millions in future settlement money.

Why it matters: Opioid overdoses killed more people in Illinois in 2020 than guns and traffic deaths combined.

  • The state reported 2,994 opioid deaths in 2020, and provisional data from 2021 indicates the yearly death toll is rising.

What's happening: Chicago Public Libraries began dispensing opioid overdose treatment Narcan this year. Visitors can take a box, with no questions asked.

  • Its 51 locations have distributed 882 boxes of two doses each since January.
  • Health authorities this month expanded statewide a recovery program called MAR NOW, which allows people struggling with opioid use disorder to call a helpline and access care.
  • Organizers say the program has already assisted 50 callers, usually within 48 hours of their first call, by allowing them to get prescriptions through telemedicine.

The intrigue: Illinois recently received a $760 million settlement from opioid distributors to be disbursed over the next 18 years, and opinions abound on how it should be spent.

  • This summer Attorney General Kwame Raoul — who filed the suits — suggested the "vast majority of the funds" should go to overdose "abatement" programs for those struggling with opioid use.
  • Yesterday, state's attorneys from DuPage, Winnebago and Rock Island counties who support Fight Crime: Invest in Kids recommended directing some funding to childhood programs run by various state and local departments.
  • These include voluntary visits from health professionals to new and expectant mothers that help parents connect to opioid treatment while reducing child abuse, which is linked to later opioid use.

What they're saying: "There are lots of great programs to get people away from opioid abuse," Sean Noble, Fight Crime's Illinois director, tells Axios. "But let's make sure programs focused on young children and their parents are also included in the mix."

What's next: The opioid settlements will be disbursed through a state Office of Opioid Settlement Administration, whose members are expected to be named this month.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note Chicago Public Libraries have distributed 882 Narcan boxes since January, not 60.

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