Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Six Ways County Will Spend Opioid Settlement Funds

Opioid treatment programs a priority for spending $56 million won from drug companies.

By - Jan 24th, 2023 10:13 am

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

The first opioid treatment programs in Milwaukee funded by a settlement with manufacturers and distributors of the drugs will likely be rolled out this year.

In 2021, Milwaukee County won a $71 million settlement from a handful of drug companies. It was part of a much larger $420 settlement for the state of Wisconsin that came out of a lawsuit filed by dozens of local and state governments against manufacturers McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Officials from County Executive David Crowley‘s administration have asked the county board to authorize the release of approximately $11.8 million in funds from the settlement for opioid addiction-related projects and programs. Based on a report from the county budget office, nearly 50% of these funds will be used for treatment programs.

The first installments from the $56 million left to the county after outside counsel is paid, began arriving in 2022. The entire settlement will be paid out over 15 years. The county expects to receive approximately $11 million from the drug companies between 2022 and 2023. So far, the county has only received approximately $4 million, according to a budget office report.

In 2022, officials gathered spending proposals from county departments. Those were then vetted by an eight-person review panel, the majority of which were community members and stakeholders. Now the funding for these ideas has to pass through the board.

As Urban Milwaukee previously reported, the county is well-placed to direct money toward programs that address the opioid epidemic, as the county is in charge of the behavioral health system and already provides a number of inpatient and outpatient services for drug addiction. The majority of the initial $11 million in spending is headed to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Below are some of the major programs the county would like to fund with these initial monies. Altogether, there are approximately 15 proposals for programs and projects related to the opioid epidemic for which county officials are seeking the release of $11.8 million in funds.

Medically Assisted Treatment At CRC

The single biggest expense is $2.5 million for a Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program called Behind the Walls. This program provides people in custody at the Community Reintegration Center (CRC) access to opioid addiction treatments that suppress opioid cravings. The people at the CRC have been convicted and are serving a sentence for a crime. To qualify for MAT, they must have a documented substance abuse disorder and agree to participate in cognitive behavioral therapy.

A large body of research into drug addiction and post-incarceration outcomes has established that the first 90-days after release are a critical window for preventing drug relapse and criminal re-offense — which often go hand-in-hand.

A study published in 2008 by researchers in Maryland looking at the benefits of methadone addiction treatment found that three-quarters of heroin users relapsed within three months of being released from prison or jail when they only had access to counseling. This study supplied an important data point for understanding the risk of opioid relapse, one which is still referenced today.

Behind the Walls does provide MAT services that continue after someone has been released back into the community. This includes continued access to medication that suppresses opioid cravings, bus fare, and a recovery support coordinator.

Opioid Prevention Grants

DHHS plans to use approximately $1.4 million to fund grants that community organizations and non-profits can apply for to fund work focused on opioid prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction. The latter involves providing basic supplies — like Narcan and fentanyl testing strips — that reduce the worst outcomes, like death, from drug use. The county also plans to spend approximately $100,000 on harm-reduction kits that can be distributed in the community.

Medical Examiners Office

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner‘s office has been on the frontline documenting the worst outcomes of the opioid epidemic that accompanied the massive increase in overdose deaths over the past two decades. Proposals for the settlement funds include $1.9 million for staffing in the office and approximately $200,000 for more autopsy carts and a portable body cooler.

Residential Substance Abuse Treatment

The county plans to invest approximately $1.7 million over three years into new projects that will increase the number of residential substance abuse facilities in Milwaukee, reducing the waitlist for them in the area.

Homeless Outreach

A proposal includes nearly half a million to fund two new treatment and resource navigators for the county’s Homeless Outreach team.

Treatment and Education at Juvenile Justice Center

The county plans to use approximately $800,000 for a new clinician and a clinical director to provide drug prevention and intervention services, including treatment and education, to juveniles struggling with addiction at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center.

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