Hundreds of thousands of people have died from overdose since the opioid epidemic began. Now, the companies accused of flooding communities with these painkillers are paying the price. But as state and local governments begin receiving the first portion of the $50 billion settlement, lawmakers are taking a keen interest in how the money will be spent.
KFF Health News reports that officials handling the funds have been inundated with offers from private, public, nonprofit and for-profit organizations looking to get a piece of the settlement money. .
KFF Senior Correspondent Aneri Pattani joined Marketplace's Kimberly Adams to talk about how the Opioid Settlement Fund can, and perhaps should, be used.
Kimberly Adams: Let's say I'm a state employee involved in distributing some of this money. What does your email inbox look like these days?
Aneri Pattani: We'd like you to take a quick call or meet with us briefly to learn more about our new product, how it relates to the opioid crisis, how it prevents addiction and saves lives. It's full of people asking for it. Please help us turn this epidemic around. There is a tremendous amount of marketing going on right now to the state and local officials who control the funds.
Adams: It's not just email. I saw in your article that you advertise in newsletters, magazines, etc. that target county, state, and district officials.
Pattani: Yes, they go wherever there is an audience. So they're trying to do everything they can to get people's attention and say, “This is an opportunity.'' This money is coming in, so spend it on our products. ”
Adams: What are some examples of products advertised in this way?
Pattani: The product that really caught my attention was BolaWrap. This is a device for law enforcement officers. With the push of a button, a Kevlar tether can be fired, flying through the air and wrapping around someone's body, restraining them. And they sent an email to various police departments that included what looked like a two-page Q&A document about how Opioid Solutions funds could be used to purchase this product. When I just described this device, a lot of people said, “How does that address the opioid crisis?” And whenever the government has a lot of money, I don't think marketing is that different. There are companies that want you to invest it in their products. Why people sometimes have a particularly bad reaction to this, especially people who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis, feel like the opioid crisis was caused by corporations that got greedy and focused on money. I think it is. And they lost sight of their responsibility and what their product was doing, and profited from it. So this idea that we got this money thanks to corporate fraud is of particular concern. Should it be reintroduced to companies?
Adams: Are there rules for how this money is spent, or at least guidance?
Pattani: yes. So most settlement agreements, and I say “almost” because different companies have different agreements, require states to use at least 85% of the funds they receive for “opioid relief.” I don't think it will. It's basically a fancy way of saying something related to addiction or overdose. This means preventing addiction and supporting treatment and recovery. Of course, that is open to some interpretation. And, you know, we're seeing some confusion and controversy on this point, but it's really an open question depending on how each region interprets this guidance on what constitutes opioid improvement. Become.
Adams: You say in your article that this moment has precedent in large-scale tobacco settlements. What do you think we can learn from how that money is distributed and spent?
Pattani: The tobacco settlement is a cautionary tale. Most of the money received from tobacco companies was not used for anti-smoking efforts. In fact, statistics show that approximately 3% of annual payments are earmarked for smoking cessation and smoking prevention activities. The rest is used for anything you can imagine. I'm not saying it's all bad, but it's not necessarily what it was meant to be. Funds have been used to build new schools, pave roads, and reduce corporate taxes.And for North Carolina [and] South Carolina provides subsidies to tobacco farmers. A lot of people bring up that history because they don't want to see the same thing happen with the Opioid Settlement Fund. This funding is here to address the ongoing addiction crisis. Over the past few years, this country has seen record numbers of people die from overdoses. So I think people want to make sure that the money addresses really urgent and pressing issues.
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