First comprehensive guides on opioid settlement funds break new ground, support accountability and community-driven priorities
June 15, 2023—Today, public health organization Vital Strategies and Christine Minhee, founder of OpioidSettlementTracker.com, announced the release of a groundbreaking set of comprehensive guides on opioid settlement funds for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although a majority of these funds must be spent on opioid remediation, there is no guarantee that the billions of dollars will be spent in ways that most effectively reduce overdose deaths, nor that those most impacted by drug-related policies will have the opportunity to participate in spending decisions. These guides aim to empower community advocates by demystifying the processes by which each state will allocate opioid settlement funds. Guides for each state can be found on the Vital Strategies website, as well as at OpioidSettlementTracker.com.
“Effective opioid settlement advocacy begins with an understanding of each state’s opioid settlement spending scheme, but the background rules often get lost in the urgency and political drama at the forefront of our preventable overdose crisis. These guides are the only true encyclopedia of states’ opioid settlement spending rules out there. They were created to give grass-roots community advocates access to data and legal expertise they might not otherwise have access to,” said Minhee. “As we sprint to save lives, we hope these guides will also help advocates make marathon impact on the ways states spend their winnings over time.”
These tools come at a critical time. Provisional data shows that the United States once again topped 100,000 deaths from overdose last year, with recent deaths rising fastest among Black and Indigenous communities across the country. Purdue Pharma’s landmark bankruptcy settlement agreement was also finally approved last month, closing one of the most intensive chapters in public health litigation history. As the U.S. continues to grapple with an overdose crisis that shows little sign of slowing, states and localities have begun to receive payments from last year’s $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson and the three largest U.S. drug distributors (AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson).
Opioid settlement funds offer a significant opportunity for enhanced investment in evidence-based strategies, such as harm reduction services, improved access to buprenorphine and methadone medications for opioid use disorder, and efforts to better meet the needs of vulnerable populations through person-centered care and support. While numerous resources have emerged to help guide state and local officials as they decide how to use these funds, there has been comparatively little focus on how community members can participate in the process.
Crafted with an eye to accessibility, each guide contains essential information on total funding, legal mechanism(s) governing the process, and funding allocations in each state. The guides also offer critical information on other key areas such as:
- How decisions are made on the use of settlement funding at state and local levels
- The role of advisory bodies, including the involvement of people with lived experience
- Additional parameters states may have on approved uses for the funds
- What measures states have put in place to promote transparency and accountability
- Relevant state-specific resources
Finally, the guides include a section on how to engage in the process as a community advocate, featuring tailored suggestions on how someone can get involved in their state.
“As millions of dollars have begun to flow to states and counties, it is imperative that feedback from communities disproportionately harmed by the overdose crisis guide spending decisions,” said Kate Boulton, Senior Legal Technical Advisor at Vital Strategies. “There has been too little focus on how we equip communities to actively participate in settlement spending decisions. These resources will help a person from any U.S. state get involved to demand investments that will make a difference on the ground.”
The guides are the result of a collaboration between Vital Strategies and Christine Minhee of OpioidSettlementTracker.com, with significant contribution from Ari Edelman McHenry.
OpioidSettlementTracker.com is a legal watchdog project founded by Christine Minhee, J.D. Christine has been tracking states’ opioid settlements and spending plans since 2019 to discover whether funds from the opioid litigation will indeed be spent to bolster the public health response to drug use. She uses data to assist governments and select non-profit organizations better understand the opioid settlement landscape and specifically advocates for harm reduction uses of funds. She is a Dean’s Medal winner from UW Law, holds a B.A. from Stanford University, and is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Publishing Course.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our overdose prevention program works to strengthen and scale evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to create equitable and sustainable reductions in overdose deaths. Work across seven U.S. States is supported by funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, launched in 2018, and by targeted investments from other partners.