Addiction treatment providers and those offering recovery supports say the opioid settlement funds need to go to those who need it most.
Opioid companies are paying out big settlements for their alleged roles in fueling the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma’s $8.3 billion agreement and McKinsey paying more than a half-billion dollars, the total has reached approximately $10 billion. And this doesn’t include the cases still pending. This means, the funds need to be allocated, and distributed, as soon as possible to help with addiction and recovery services on the frontlines.
Bruce Markell, bankruptcy professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, said of Purdue’s bankruptcy filing, “The $40 trillion sought by claimants is 3,000 times the settlement in the PG&E Corp. bankruptcy…In light of the sum of claims filed, the only fair and equitable outcome is to confirm Purdue’s Plan because it maximizes the available funds and allows for a coherent allocation among the various creditors.”
The “plan” should include funds for comprehensive care of those who need it most. Marvin D. Seppala, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction medicine, and the chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, said, “People with substance use disorders deserve access to a full continuum of quality care – just like those with heart disease or diabetes or any other health condition. For patients with opioid use disorders, that means access to the full range of FDA-approved medications, including buprenorphine, extended-release naltrexone, and methadone, along with evidence-based psychosocial therapies, peer support, and medical and mental health care.”
He adds that it is also important to understand, “Most people with addiction are vulnerable to multiple substances, and most opioid-related overdose deaths involve the concurrent use of other substances. Just as we could never end diabetes or heart disease by zeroing in on one particular fast-food restaurant, we can’t expect to successfully confront addiction by focusing on one drug.”
Stacy Chamberlain, program director for Behavioral Health Group’s clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, is worried, however, that those on the frontlines often don’t get to have a say.
“We’re all out there scrapping for funds,” Chamberlain said. “But I do think that at times we’re not given the opportunity to even apply for those or to say, ‘Hey, this is what we do.’ My staff is pretty overworked, but we all strongly believe that we should take people in – we don’t like to turn anybody away. My staff at times gets frustrated with me because I tell (patients) to come on in. Because I believe if somebody presents, and they’re walking in that door, then they’ve taken that first step.”
Expanding access to care is, thus, a huge priority. Addiction affects 1 in 7 people and 1 in 3 families, but, according to current research, only 1 in 10 people who need help receive it.
With the coronavirus pandemic leading to an increased need for mental health and substance use services, these funds are more important than ever. Seppala explained of the need for funding the frontlines, “Money from opioid settlements should never cover general budget shortfalls. They should be dedicated now, and long-term, to addressing the enormous and growing needs of our family members, friends, and neighbors who struggle with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.”