Heart of It All: My incomplete but perhaps useful notes from the Licking County Opioid Settlement funds meetings thus far

Sunset in Newark, Ohio

Licking County, Ohio–As the conversation begins about how to spend the opioid settlement money–and remember, this is coming from multiple suits, distributors as well as from drug companies. To be clear, the money hasn’t arrived yet but, to their credit, Licking County commissioners and folks from Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking and Knox County, have organized 4 community meetings to discuss potential uses for these dollars. Here are notes I took (not opinions, just notes) from both sessions I’ve attended. Please feel free to add things you heard.

MEETING #1, Utica:

12 chairs are set up in a church fellowship hall . Commissioner Tim Bubb and recovery board executive director Kay Spergel are at the front of the room. Bubb is seated and Spergel is standing.

Bubb explains that the money is going to be dispersed over 18 years. The first payment is $61k and second payment $61k. There’s also a payment from Johnson and Johnson, but they’re not sure how much that will be. Also, every town in the county gets some money, but some payments are low (under $500). Bubb notes that perhaps there could be some pooling of money.

In addition, 55% of the money is being channeled through One Ohio Foundation, an entity set up by the state to handle the money from these suits. There are 19 regions. Licking is in Region 18. Dennis Cauchon of Harm Reduction Ohio is following this funding closely. [NB: Pay attention to the make up this board and how they disperse funds. They are supposed to hold public meetings.]

“The burden is on the community and region to allocate the funds,” says Bubb. This is why they’re having these listening sessions about the money.

The county has set up an advisory committee.

“We’ll have discretion to spend the money—to address the harms of “overproduction and marketing of opioids…The whole point of this was not to blow it like the tobacco settlement,” says Bubb. “Give me your ideas, we’re open”

Rep. Kevin Miller, former highway patrol, is here and says he is ready to listen.

Spergel hands out a guide entitled “Ohio Abatement Strategies” that is to be used to help think about creating programs to address substance use disorder (and overdose?) in Ohio.

Spergel says we have two charges: 1) what’s the way to use $ for communities 2) how to respond to the region.

Trish Perry says we need a methadone clinic in Licking County. Spergel says she agrees and we also need education to explain importance of methadone. Perry also says we need a syringe service program: “It’s not about giving away needles, it’s about giving supplies to keep them alive.” Perry also suggests shelters, stable places for people dealing with substance use disorder.

One man (don’t know name), suggests support for workforce development.

Spergel talks about the SUD /infectious disease nurse in Knox County as well as (supportive housing) and access to care.

Bubb then talks about law enforcement and the lab for CODE and how it helps “get dealers off the street. ” Then he talks about human trafficking—sees it as important issue.

Meeting #2, Licking County Building

I was late. When I walked in around 5:30 there was talk about treatment and the usefulness of a recovery navigator, especially for families not sure what to do. This person would have contacts and connections. Someone mentioned that it would useful if this person was available 24/7.

There’s a call for help for children—and for people taking care of them.

Minister Blyth Barnow from HEAL Ohio presents a thorough list of ideas created by the Ohio Harm Reduction Policy Table that she chairs. (See attached doc on FB). Of note, she talks about the need for technical assistance and support for smaller grassroots organizations (Spergel says that her board can help). Blyth also pointed out the need to bring people in recovery or in active use to work in spaces for people who use drugs.

Spergel mentions the nurse that works with unhoused people in Knox County.

Linda Mossholder asks how folks can apply for money. There’s nothing set up yet.

The expectation is for $61k before the end of the year. Commissioner Bubb notes that this is the process that was created in the court.

There’s a discussion about drug court and its effectiveness.

David Ruderman points out that some people can’t stay in programs because they can’t afford to stay in them–especially because of rising housing costs and lack of transportation.]

Sperling says we need to focus on the social determinants of health.

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