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Report advises Illinois, others to use opioid settlement funds to fight addiction

(The Center Square) – Illinois is part of a $26 billion settlement with several companies over their role in the opioid epidemic, and a nonpartisan fact tank say the money presents an opportunity to fight drug abuse.

The state could receive nearly $800 million from the settlement announced last week with McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson. Attorney General Kwame Raoul has indicated Illinois will sign the settlement.

The distributors were accused of lax controls that allowed massive amounts of painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, sometimes with devastating results. J & J was accused of downplaying the addiction risk in its marketing.

In 2020, there were nearly 3,000 opioid overdose deaths in Illinois, a 33% increase from 2019. The crisis has been blamed for hundreds of thousands of U.S. overdose deaths since 1999.

In an op-ed, budget and health experts at Pew Charitable Trusts advised state lawmakers on how to manage their settlement funds to ensure these new resources are channeled to reduce overdose deaths and support recovery programs.

Beth Connolly, project director with Pew’s substance use prevention and treatment initiative, points to the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, which also brought billions of dollars into state coffers.

“Some of the money that came into states was not used for smoking-related issues, and so it is our hope that these settlements will actually have terms that requires states to address the opioid crisis,” Connolly said.

In the case of opioid settlements, Connolly said policymakers can prevent a similar diversion by adopting clear policies and plans to use the funds, including for evidence-based programs.

“We know that there is a strong evidence-based medication for opioid use disorder and increasing access to these medications is critical,” said Connolly.

The Illinois Department of Human Services announced this week it is making naloxone more readily available to reverse the effect of opioid overdoses impacting Illinoisans with opioid use disorder.

IDHS is investing nearly $13 million aimed at fighting the epidemic through expanding access to medication. The funds will support the work of providers across the state, including organizations involved with community outreach programs to connect with persons who are at risk of an overdose.

At least 44 states must sign onto the deal to receive some of the settlement money, and some have already indicated they are out.

Hard-hit West Virginia has indicated it is going to pursue its own deal in hopes of a bigger payout. New Hampshire will do the same.

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