Drug money

ASHLAND — Money from the National Opioid Settlement has begun hitting local government accounts.

In Ohio, governments are set to receive $8.6 million total this year. The money will continue to be disbursed for the next 18 years.

The money is part of the $808 million settlement the Ohio Attorney General’s office reached with distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen in September 2021.

Ashland County is one of the 73 counties that agreed to receive the settlement money. It is set to receive $17,841.29, but county officials have said the money has yet to hit accounts.

“I’ve been looking for the money through an EFT but we haven’t received it yet,” said Cindy Funk, the county’s auditor.

According to the OneOhio Memorandum of Understanding, governments must establish a special revenue fund to receive the money, which will then facilitate the money’s use along set guidelines.

The MOU says governments must use the money to address the expansion of treatment of those struggling with substance abuse, develop prevention strategies, provide substance avoidance and awareness education, decrease the oversupply of opioids and support addiction services from licensed providers.

The City of Ashland received its payment of $5,859.23, according to finance director Larry Paxton. He said the money is accounted for in the city’s Drug Law Enforcement Fund, which was created for the opioid settlement money.

“At this point, I do not believe the city has formulated a plan in writing on exactly what it’s going to be used for,” Paxton said. “But we have accounted for it.”

Additional funding will be available through the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, which was formed in order to allow communities to take a regional approach to improving the opioid epidemic.

There are 19 regions across Ohio. Ashland County is in Region 19, along with Richland, Huron, Erie, Lorain, Medina and Wayne counties.

This settlement has been in the works in Ohio since 2017, when then Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued opioid makers and drug distributors for “their role in flooding the market with massive amounts of highly addictive opioids,” according to a July 15 news release from Gov. DeWine.

“Ohio’s families and community have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic,” DeWine said. “While nothing can make whole the losses sustained by Ohioans who have been affected by opioids, it is welcome news that the first payments are going out … to local governments.”

There were 23,700 deaths from opioid overdoses in Ohio from 2010 to 2019, according to numbers provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Nationwide, fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 totaled 96,779, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The number represented a 30% increase over 2020 numbers.

In Ohio, 5,491 people died from opioid overdoses and in Ashland County, there were 62 overdoses and 10 deaths.

Figures from the Ohio Department of Health show Ashland County experienced its deadliest year of overdoses from 2014 to 2015, when the county’s death rate from overdoses shot from 1.88 per 100,000 population to 7.53.

That death rate has ebbed and flowed since 2015, but rose from 3.76 in 2018 to 5.65 in 2020, the latest data available.

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