With health care systems and mental health services strained by increased use and decreased revenue, a $200 million pot of money earmarked for use to combat debilitating and often lethal opioid addiction offers at least a little bit of help with a crisis that has claimed 470,000 American lives since 2000.
Instead, the money sits — and has been sitting for months — unspent as stakeholders wrestle with the best use of the cash.
This is a travesty.
The funding allocation, set aside more than a year ago, was part of a novel plan agreed to by Purdue Pharma to help those who had been harmed by the company’s narcotic painkiller OxyContin.
Since then, there’s a stalemate over the best way to spend the money. And as the debate drags on, people with addiction continue to die and more families mourn and front-line care providers dig for the equivalent of loose change to fund OD antidote drugs.
If the lawyers (and there are hundreds of them involved) couldn’t figure out how to score a touchdown with this pot of hope, it’s time to punt. Get this money into the hands of entities that need it.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September 2019 as part of an effort to settle thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold the pharmaceutical company liable for the opioid addiction crisis. A broader settlement remains in the works and could involve Purdue ownership (the Sackler family) paying $3 billion and giving up ownership such that the company would be a public-benefit corporation with its profits (billions more over time) directed to addiction services. Much attention now is being focused on this bigger sum of money.
And while that settlement is hammered out, the $200 million that was to provide immediate relief simply sits. And sits.
While the disagreements over spending that relief fund are complex and peppered with the best of intentions from all parties, a key conflict splits advocates who want the money directed primarily to backyard nonprofits that provide emergency services and state/municipal attorneys who worry about diluting the effectiveness of the money if it is divided among so many.
Well, a little bit of something is better than nothing. The advocates for addiction agencies and their clients have an upfront view of their needs. Their perspective should be accorded respect and priority. Untie the purse strings. Now.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board