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How Michigan plans to distribute opioid settlement funds

Posted at 10:18 AM, Apr 23, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — A historic $26 billion nationwide settlement with some of the nation's largest pharmaceutical distributors and manufacturer is giving the state about $800 million to address the ongoing opioid addiction crisis.

On Thursday, the Michigan Senate passed bipartisian bills that create a structure to distribute the money.

And when it comes to treating substance abuse and opioid addiction, Jacque Liebner, executive director of the Rise Recovery Community Addiction Treatment Center, understands first hand how difficult it can be without adequate funding.

“The monies that are coming into the state are helping," Liebner said. "They've got a lot of media campaigns in there, of course, but there's many different layers to the money going to the health care system when it comes to mental health, which is a huge piece of this and is so weak right now. If we have somebody in our program that struggles with mental health, it is such a difficult task to find the support that they need.”

The settlement with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, McKessen and Cardinal provides money for state and local governments to combat the epidemic, including addiction treatment, prevention initiatives, criminal justice initiatives, harm reduction strategies and support for pregnant women facing addiction.

Michigan's $800 million share will be used over the next several years in accordance with the settlement.

The distribution structure outlined in the bill package includes legislation drafted by state Sen. Michael MacDonald, a Macomb Township Republican who has a personal connection to the issue. He said he lost his best friend to opioids in 2010.

“I think that holding those who would make it easier for people to find that escape accountable is a good step in the right direction," MacDonald said. "But I hope that money will be used to address the root of the problem, which is obviously mental health”

The role of mental health in addiction is crucial to understanding the issue, according to Dr. Jed Magen, chairman of Michigan State University's Department of Psychiatry.

“I think the first issue is that, you know, many people think that this is a moral failing. And in fact, it's not this is in many ways a brain disease,” he said.

Magen says the money earmarked in the bill for treatment and harm reduction strategies specifically will be helpful in addressing the issue.

“Everybody should be able to get treatment," Magen said. "So that's certainly one. Secondly, harm reduction strategies. You know, making naloxone. It is a medication that blocks opiates. And so if you have an overdose, you can give somebody Naloxone, and it will reverse the overdose so it can prevent death.”

According to the University of Michigan, Michigan ranks among the states hit hardest by the dramatic escalation in deaths over the past 15 years.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data reveals there were almost 3,000 opioid-related deaths in the state in 2021, a 7 percent increase from the previous year.

Liebner said, in her experience, many deaths are due to opioids being widely available and laced in other drugs such as marijuana or cocaine.

She said she sees lots of potential in mid-Michigan to address this problem using the additional money.

“The reason we chose this area is they have so much to offer with the infrastructure here," Liebner said. "There's jobs, there's busing, there's education. We have so many different tools to help someone recover. And I want Lansing and the center of Michigan to be the recovery capital.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Helpline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357) or visit the CDC's website for more information on treatment options.

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