Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Plans Expanded Opioid Epidemic Response

How to maximize impact of $56.6 million settlement over 18 years from drug companies.

By - Nov 23rd, 2022 05:25 pm
Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

A financial settlement with opioid manufacturers is going to bring a steady infusion of money into Milwaukee County that can be used to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction that has plagued the area for nearly a decade.

In 2021, the county announced that a settlement had been reached in a lawsuit brought against drug manufacturers McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The county participated in this lawsuit along with counties and municipalities around the state and country.

Milwaukee County is among the state’s most deeply affected areas by the opioid epidemic. It’s had a rate of overdose deaths twice as high as the rest of the state for most of the last decade. Between 2014 and 2020, the county had approximately 31 fatal overdoses for every 100,000 residents annually.

County government is also well-suited as an institution to tackle the challenge of opioid addiction and the destruction it leaves in its wake. The county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and its constituent agency Behavioral Health Services already provide treatment and recovery services, and the settlement provides the opportunity to expand them.

The county received $71 million out of the $420 million coming to the state of Wisconsin. A new report shows the county will receive the first $19 million over the next three years, with the rest coming over the following 15 years. The report shows that of the $71 million, the county will directly receive $56.6 million after paying the attorney fees for the private counsel that worked with the public attorneys on the suit. The City of Milwaukee received $18 million as part of this suit.

Localities in Wisconsin are going to receive the majority of the settlement money in the state thanks to a law passed by the state Assembly in 2021 that required 70% of the proceeds from the settlement go to local governments.

“This opioid pandemic has left a wave of destruction across this state and across this nation,” County Executive David Crowley said when the settlement was announced. “But we’re now in a better position to fund critical services that will help save lives and mitigate continued suffering for residents as well as their loved ones and their neighbors.”

County officials have been developing a framework for how to employ these new funds against the opioid epidemic and have assembled a panel to review project proposals from county departments. The panel will include community members with experience of opioid addiction, representatives from the county human services and budget departments, the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, City of Milwaukee and West Allis Fire Departments, and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The county plans to pour these funds into programs that will generally cover treatment, harm reduction and prevention. But it has also developed a list of “core strategies” that are largely focused on expanding existing programs like Narcan training and distribution, clean syringe programs, Medication-Assisted-Treatment, services and treatment for incarcerated people, and services focused on women who are pregnant or post-partum among others.

After the settlement was announced in 2021, Shakita LaGrant-McClain, director of DHHS, told Urban Milwaukee that the county was well placed to use the money because it already provides or facilitates a number of services for people struggling with substance abuse. What’s more, DHHS has been reshaping the way it provides services through a policy called “No Wrong Door” to connect people with any social service they may need wherever they come into contact with the system.

“The settlement funds will help DHHS build on the successes and expand services that have been proven to work in our community,” LaGrant-McClain said at the time, “and also to explore harm reduction and prevention efforts for which we have not previously had the funding.”

Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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