We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the addiction crisis, with new data reporting the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded, exceeding 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020. The need for a stronger, more focused approach to saving lives is more important than ever, as America is facing the single worst drug crisis in its history.
As reported this week, the multi-district litigation against the opioid manufacturers and distributors is expected to be settled imminently. States and counties will soon have billions of dollars to invest in evidence-based programs to prevent, treat, and help their constituents recover. It may seem overwhelming to states, particularly if they have not set up processes yet on how to spend the settlement dollars. To help guide states in this process, we encourage the adoption of all five guiding principles for use of opioid litigation funds and advise focusing on three key steps to get started: set up a dedicated fund, conduct a statewide needs assessment, issue grants to evidence-based programs and initiatives.
We are urging states to start with setting up a dedicated fund so the settlement monies can only be spent on substance use services and programs. This might seem like a given, especially since the legal documents have “allowable uses” within their agreements; however, the states must set up dedicated processes, or it will be easy to spend these dollars on services other than on substance use disorder.
To assess where states have current challenges or gaps, we advise investing in a statewide evaluation or needs assessment to determine areas of critical importance to focus abatement efforts. If such an assessment has been done in the state in the last year, lean on that report to focus efforts. All efforts should be made to align these strategies with existing programs or strategies coordinated out of state agencies and/or Governor’s offices.
Finally, whichever programs and initiatives states prioritize, we need to underscore the importance of using evidence to guide spending. At this point in the overdose epidemic, researchers and clinicians have built a substantial body of evidence demonstrating what works and what does not. States and counties should direct funds toward evidence-based programs, removing policies that block the adoption of programs that work, and building capacity for further robust data collection.
Addiction contributes to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year, many of which are preventable. To reduce these unnecessary tragedies, every level of government must take more action. Ensuring the funds received from opioid-related litigation are used to address these issues in a strategic and meaningful way is a good start.