The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 1:00 am


Smart money

Localities must start now on spending plan for millions from opioid settlement

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

In 2015, after Indiana received millions of dollars from settlements in lawsuits against tobacco companies, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reported the state was not keeping promises to use the money to combat public health problems caused by smoking and other tobacco use.

Indiana and 20 other states spent less than 10% of what federal officials recommended on prevention programs, according to the report. The state was spending about $5 million each year on cessation programs, The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported.

“Every state has its own reasons and political climate; however, in general I would say that most people have forgotten where the money comes from and what it was intended to be used for,” Danielle Patterson, Indiana government relations director for the American Heart Association and chair of the lobby committee for Tobacco Free Indiana, said at the time.

“Unfortunately, there has been no oversight and no accountability to ensure that the settlement money goes for tobacco-cessation and -prevention programs.”

That's a mistake that shouldn't be repeated, as the state and its municipalities eye millions more from settlements resulting from lawsuits against makers and distributors of opioids – powerful painkillers blamed for another public health crisis the National Institute on Drug Abuse said led to 50,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. in 2019.

Indiana gets about $120 million annually from the tobacco master settlement, but officials have said the figure varies each year. That's spent on “a variety of programs to address issues related to tobacco use, from prevention to treatment of smoking-related illness,” a statement posted to the State Board of Accounts website says. But it's up to the Indiana General Assembly to decide what is funded.

That's meant expenditures for residential services for people with disabilities as well as for substance abuse treatment, retiree health benefits, health-care related capital projects and medical residency grants.

Attorney General Todd Rokita announced last week Indiana could receive $507 million as part of a $26 billion settlement with pharmaceutical companies sued by several states over their products.

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the loss and pain that's resulted from the scourge of addiction across our state, this significant settlement will go a long way in preventing a crisis of this kind from ever happening again,” Rokita said in a statement.

Exactly how much makes its way here is unclear because some municipalities – Fort Wayne and Allen County among them – were upset over a law that allocates most of the funding to the state and will continue their own lawsuits against the companies, rather than accept the Indiana agreement.

Regardless, it's a safe bet that money will flow into the state, and it's now time for elected officials to start considering ways to effectively use it.

John Perlich, a spokesman for Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, said this week the city would partner with “organizations in the community and public safety to make sure we have the biggest impact.”

“Education and treatment would be part of that effort,” he wrote in an email.

That is important because drug overdoses in the U.S. rose by nearly 30% last year, government data show. In Allen County, a record 145 fatal overdoses were recorded. Eighty-two deaths have occurred so far this year, and 25 suspected cases are awaiting toxicology tests.

Those figures include deaths caused by a variety of drugs, but Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department said opioids – lately, painkillers made to look real but containing dangerous substances such as fentanyl – remain a problem.

We encourage state and local elected officials to craft plans spending settlement money on treatment and other programs designed to solve the problem. History needn't repeat itself.

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