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Opioid Settlement Money Must Be Used To Fight The Scourge

Opioid Settlement Money Must Be Used To Fight The Scourge

Hartford  Courant, Sept. 13, 2019

By Sean Scanlon

After years of legal action, a long overdue reckoning is occurring as pharmaceutical companies who manufactured and marketed opioids while downplaying and lying about their dangers are finally being held accountable for their role in creating today’s opioid epidemic.

In a recent landmark decision, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million to help repair the damage done there by the opioid epidemic. While this case was playing out, our own Attorney General William Tong has been negotiating a potential settlement with the Stamford-based OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

Yet while the nation and the media are rightly focused on these historic cases and the latest developments of a potential settlement, one very important thing has been all but ignored: where the money will go.

If and when Attorney General Tong reaches a settlement with Purdue, my colleagues and I need to ensure that the money goes directly towards opioid use disorder treatment — something he has called for — and to the cities and towns whose budgets have been decimated by a dramatic rise in overdose response calls. 

There would be no greater disservice to the victims of Connecticut’s opioid epidemic and their families than for Purdue’s money to go into our general fund and used for purposes other than to right the wrongs caused by a company that got us into this mess.

The costs of those wrongs are being felt every day in every city and town in our state, but one staggering example of a community in need of relief is Waterbury.

Between 2006 and 2012, a single CVS pharmacy in Waterbury was shipped nearly 4.7 million opioid pills, according to data recently uncovered by the Washington Post.

In 2018, Waterbury had 68 fatal overdoses, but that was out of a total of 270 overdoses that emergency workers responded to. According to the Waterbury Fire Department, it takes an average of two to three doses of the life-saving drug Narcan to revive someone who has overdosed. Each dose costs $27. If a person has overdosed due to an opioid laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, first responders might have to use anywhere between four and nine doses to revive the patient.

 The cost of a single overdose call in Waterbury, when all the expenses are accounted for, averages about $922. When you multiply that by 270 overdoses in one year, you get $248,940. Just for Waterbury. Just in 2018.

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They aren’t alone. According to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Bridgeport is spending an estimated $500,000 this fiscal year between the health, fire and police departments. New London is spending over $180,000. Naugatuck spent over $190,000 this fiscal year and $900,000 over the last five years in these areas. Fairfield has spent over $50,000 in the last five years on Narcan, counseling and education programs.

And while municipalities bear the brunt of the initial response to overdoses, the cost to the state is even greater when it comes to treatment and prevention.

Last year, 55,000 people received substance use services at a cost of $108 million from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). Connecticut’s Medicaid program spent $97 million on medication assisted treatment (MAT) alone for 43,061 people. These nearly 100,000 people are almost exclusively uninsured or poor; this doesn’t even account for the tens of thousands of Connecticut residents in treatment utilizing their private insurance.

By assigning any potential settlement money to the general fund, we would repeat the devastating mistake made following the historic 1998 tobacco settlement. Over the last 20 years, only 10 percent of the $2 billion in payments Connecticut has received have gone towards smoking cessation programs.

As legislators, there are few things we can do that would have more impact than ensuring that every single dollar associated with these settlements goes directly to opioid prevention and treatment.

If my colleagues and I make the public commitment to do so right now, we will not find ourselves looking back at this moment as the time we squandered what could be our last, best chance to end this epidemic once and for all.