URBANA — Champaign County Commission member Jennifer Locke and the task force she chairs have a big job ahead of them.
Their mission is to determine how to best utilize the county’s share of opioid litigation settlements to help combat opioid drug abuse in the community.
“This is not a one-and-done thing,” said Locke, a former Urbana county commissioner and McLean County assistant public defender.
This funding has already been received, of which just under $600,000 has been received, with an additional $1.8 million to be paid out over 15 years, but settlements have been reached with three major drug distributors and three pharmaceutical companies. It will be sent to Champaign County as a party to a class action lawsuit that has been completed. and three pharmacy chains.
At least 85% of the settlement must go toward prevention, education, and treatment to curb the epidemic of opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and synthetic opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup has already seen the devastating consequences of opioid drug overdoses dozens of times this year alone.
“As of today, we have officially closed 37 drug overdose death investigations,” he said Wednesday. “All but one of them were opioid-related.”
That number represents about half to two-thirds of all cases involving confirmed or suspected overdose deaths handled by the coroner’s office so far this year, Northrup said. .
“We are still awaiting toxicology results and final autopsy results for a number of deaths that have occurred in the past 60 to 90 days,” he said.
Rock said the county task force, which met Monday, is just getting started.
The group begins by getting input from people involved in the criminal justice system, public health, and treatment.
“We asked them, ‘What would you do if you had this money?'” Locke said.
Although this is a bipartisan task force, “we’re all working together on education and treatment,” she said.
Things the task force will consider include educational availability, access to medication-assisted treatment and expanding the availability of the opioid reversal drug Narcan to areas of the county outside of Champaign-Urbana.
The group is in the process of obtaining a data map for the county that overlays Narcan use, overdoses, overdose deaths and the ages of people who overdose, Locke said.
The map will give the group a better idea of where overdoses are occurring and the ages of those affected, but “coroners and sheriffs have told us this is happening in every area of the county.” “We know that there is,” she said.
Communication is also ongoing with local municipalities and other counties receiving a share of the settlement funds.
“We want to work together where it makes sense to work together,” she said.
One thing Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reetz and Sheriff Dustin Heuerman are advocating is increased prevention.
“I support this funding being used for prevention education programs and access to substance abuse treatment for small towns, school districts, and communities that are disproportionately impacted by opioid use and abuse,” Reetz said. Stated.
He also proposed that the settlement fund be administered by county mental health boards or regional planning commissions, both of which have experience in scrutinizing and overseeing publicly funded social services programs.
“Other counties that received funding through opioid litigation have established task forces and empowered service providers and experts to determine the best use of the funds,” Lietz said. “I am pleased to see the Board engaging with local stakeholders who believe that these funds will be put to good use to combat the problems caused by opioid abuse in our communities. Because we are in the best position to do so.”
Heuerman said both prevention and enforcement need to be considered, but if opioid abuse can be prevented in the first place, there will be less need for enforcement.
Although Champaign County deputies have never recovered large quantities of half-dose fentanyl, he said they often find small amounts of the opioid drug in individual users.
They also often administer Narcan to people who have overdosed, Heuerman said, sometimes returning to the same home a week later to administer Narcan to the same person again.
“I’m all for putting as much money as we can into the prevention side,” he said.
The best-case scenario is that people can be deterred from abusing opioids, the sheriff said.
“If we can’t do it completely, which is difficult, but we also need people to enforce it to get fentanyl and heroin off the streets,” he said.
Locke said the next special committee meeting will be held on December 4th.