Communities ravaged by America’s opioid epidemic are starting to get their share of a $50 billion pie from legal settlements.
Most of that money comes with a requirement that it be used to address the overdose crisis and prevent more deaths.
It could mean that places look more like the area around Findlay. Here, conservative Hancock County has built a comprehensive system focused on both treatment and recovery.
“People recover in a community,” said Precia Stuby, the official who heads the county’s addiction and mental health efforts. “We have to build recovery-oriented communities that support individuals.”
It was 2007 when Stuby began hearing from officials about prescription opioids being misused. That was about the same time Jesse Johnson, then 14, was prescribed the painkiller Percocet.
The Findlay native was pregnant when she needed stents put into her kidneys as treatment for infections and kidney stones. After seven months on the opioid medication, she gave birth to a healthy daughter. Then she underwent an operation to remove the stents. The prescriptions stopped and she became sick from withdrawal.
“I remember not even being able to hold my daughter,” said Johnson, now 31. “It just hurt.”
Alcohol, marijuana and, a few years later, cocaine and opioids from the black market helped Johnson ease the pain.
By then, county officials were seeing the area’s fatal opioid overdose toll tick up. The recovery system then included only some outpatient services and Alcoholics Anonymous.
From 1999 through 2020, 131 deaths in the county were attributed to opioids. Across the country, it was more than 500,000. The county’s opioid-linked death rate over that period paralleled the nation’s as the crisis moved from pain pills to heroin to even more potent fentanyl.
But the county took a path that many places did not.
Officials created a plan with the help of the federally funded Addiction Technology Transfer Center that stressed recovery and built upon a local recognition that “this is our family, our friends, our brothers, our sisters,” Stuby said.
The settlement funds from drugmakers, wholesalers and pharmacies will not be enough for every harm reduction, treatment, recovery and prevention program that might be needed to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.
But it could be enough to jumpstart major changes to the efforts.
The county’s approach, which echoes experts’ recommendations for use of the settlement money, is that people with the right support can recover from addiction.
Since its implementation began a decade ago, Hancock County has brought in more than $19 million in grants, largely from the federal government. Other funding comes from a county tax levy and the state. Health insurance helps pay for treatment.
“It’s not just about how to get people off of opioids, but how do we keep them in remission and increase their stable recovery?” said John F. Kelly, of Harvard Medical School. His research has shown that recovery support services — such as housing, community centers and peer coaching — can help.
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Communities ravaged by America’s opioid epidemic are starting to get their share of a $50 billion pie from legal settlements. Most of that money comes with a requirement that it be used to address the overdose crisis and prevent more deaths. But how? It could mean that places look more like the area around Findlay. Read More