Editorial: Drug settlement funds should all go to treatment

With Indiana joining a nationwide settlement of lawsuits against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors, Bartholomew County is expecting a $3.2 million windfall as its portion of that settlement.

The county will get the lion’s share, about $3 million, with Columbus receiving $194,011 and Hope $9,343. Payouts will begin soon, but they could stretch out over years.

As The Republic’s Andy East reported last week, “While none of the settlement money will go directly to victims of opioid addiction or their survivors, the vast majority of it is required to be used to deal with the epidemic.” The money will fund treatment and drug abatement efforts.

Well, most of it will.

There is something a little disconcerting in one aspect of this settlement, however. It allows almost $1 million of the $3.2 million that will be received locally to be spent for any purpose.

No decisions have been made about how this settlement money will be allocated, but local officials will be discussing that soon.

“Locally, city and county officials plan to work together to determine how to spend the funds, said Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development,” East reported.

“Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop plans to meet with Bartholomew County Councilmember Mark Gorbett, representatives from Columbus Regional Health and others in the coming weeks to talk about the funding, Ferdon said.

The Republic encourages local leaders to commit to ensuring that every penny of this settlement money be directed to addressing our opioid crisis and enhancing the current funding of existing programs. We have advocated consistently for local officials to meet this crisis with the urgency it demands. If they put the community’s best interests first, there should be no debate about how this windfall should be allocated.

Bartholomew County has had at least 172 drug overdose deaths since 2015, and those numbers keep increasing year after year, worsened by the emergence of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. We are on pace again to set a local record in opioid deaths, East reported, after setting a fresh record last year with 33 overdose deaths.

Recently, several local programs whose mission is helping people overcome drug addiction made their cases for public funding that totaled a little more than $1.2 million for the coming year. Those include the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP), Bartholomew County Adult Drug Recovery Court, Recovery Enables a Life for Men (REALM) program at Community Corrections and the Bartholomew County Jail Addiction Treatment Program.

These programs are doing vitally important work, but we can and should do more to help people who need it and who seek help to recover from addiction. People in this condition should have that opportunity, and we should encourage them and offer that help, instead of telling them are no treatment options or recovery beds available.

Until we can fix that disconcerting condition, the very least we should do as a community is insist that our leaders use every cent of this settlement money to accentuate current funding for drug recovery programs.