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CT municipalities got almost $10 million from opioid settlements. What are they spending it on?

Narcan nasal spray.
Molly Ingram
/
WSHU
Narcan nasal spray.

As of October 2023, more than half of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities had yet to spend any of the money they received from opioid settlements. And only $1 million of that statewide $9.8 million settlement was spent on combating the opioid epidemic.

WSHU’s Molly Ingram spoke with CT Mirror’s Andrew Brown to discuss his article, “Many CT towns, cities still deciding how to spend opioid funds,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Andy, first, give us a little background. Why are Connecticut municipalities receiving money from opioid settlements?

AB: Connecticut municipalities, like towns, cities and counties across the country, are receiving this money through several national legal settlements that were entered with opioid manufacturers. Think, like, Purdue Pharma, opioid shippers like McKesson and Cardinal Health, and opioid retailers, such as several large nationally known pharmacy chains. Those settlements were entered after extensive litigation that showed that the overwhelming number of prescription pain pills that were sent all over the country in the 2000s into the 2010s led to the current epidemic that we're facing in this country regarding opioid addiction and overdoses.

So there were these national legal settlements with these large corporations that is essentially providing a large stream of cash not only to municipalities, but also state governments throughout the country, to try to address the lingering effects of this addiction crisis that these prescription pills created.

WSHU: The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services surveyed Connecticut's 169 municipalities last year to see how they used the money. What kind of responses did they get?

AB: I would say the largest takeaway was that many municipalities in Connecticut have not decided or just haven't even considered how to use this new settlement money that is coming their way. Some larger cities that have professional staff available or maybe have built-in partnerships already that are addressing addiction in their communities, they're spending this money on things like Narcan, which is the opioid overdose reversal drug, they're spending it on harm reduction supplies, like clean needles and drug test kits to help the populations that are dealing with an opioid use disorder. But the large takeaway thus far, is that many municipalities just haven't spent this money or don't know how.

And I say that with the caveat that the settlement monies will continue to trickle into towns and cities over the next 15 to 20 years. So some towns told the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services that, essentially, they didn't have enough money to do anything with. They have received a couple thousand dollars thus far, and that really isn't enough on its own to stand up a new program to try to fight addiction or to work with kids, for instance, to try to do anti-addiction or, or anti-drug use programming. So we're in the infant stages of this, but with hundreds of people dying in Connecticut every year, I think some advocates are out there saying, you know, the towns and cities as well as the state needs to figure this out rather quickly to put this money to use to try to curb the number of deaths that are occurring.

WSHU: And you wrote a little bit about some of the smaller towns that have used the money for things completely unrelated because they don't have the infrastructure to put together a program that would make sense. Can you talk a little bit about that?

AB: Yeah. So I spoke to the first selectman out of Bridgewater, who essentially said, like, there's so many other things going on in town, they do not have a city manager, they don't have a Public Health Department located in their municipality of a couple thousand people. So everything falls to the first selectman there, right? And his take was like, 'Yeah, we got like $1,000 or so we put it in our general revenue fund, and really haven't even discussed it.' And that was not abnormal, based on what some towns and cities reported back to the state.

Other ones, other small towns, either in the quiet northeast corner of Connecticut or in the northwest corner up in the mountains, they essentially said like we don't have enough money to do anything with this, or we don't have the staff to essentially manage this going forward. Now, some municipalities have tried to counteract that by collaborating. And so some small towns have had success in essentially pooling their funds to start making a regional difference instead of having all of these 169 silos essentially, where this money is being housed and used.

WSHU: One of those partnerships that you talked about was called the North West Hills Council of Governments. Tell me a little bit about what they chose to do with the money.

AB: So the Northwest Hills Council of Government decided that they could help the municipalities in their region, especially the rural ones, by pooling their funds and having a regional effect on opioid addiction. So they asked the smaller towns in the northwest corner of Connecticut, I think 11 in total, to contribute all or some of their settlement funding. And they put that to use by buying, essentially, kits that are handed out to individuals who overdose and are transported by ambulance to a hospital for an overdose. Those kits include things like Narcan, they include resources and information about where those people can seek treatment if they're ready to seek out that treatment.

And so they're kind of a model right now. They're one of the few places in Connecticut that stands out as a regional collaboration. But I think DMHAS, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, is looking to foster more of those types of collaboration between towns as we move on in the next 15 years or so in trying to make sure that the settlement monies are put to their most effective use.

WSHU: Is there a date by which this money has to be spent?

AB: It depends on each individual settlement. Like I said, I'm giving a range because there's a handful of settlements that are going into this money that is arriving in towns. So each different allocation is dependent on what was negotiated in federal court. But in general, we're talking about, again, a 15-year period in which to allocate and spend this money.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.