By Sebastian Jaramillo
Boston University Statehouse Program
State and local governments in Massachusetts will receive $525 million to combat opioid abuse as part of a settlement with four of the nation’s largest drug distributors.
The funds represent the Massachusetts share of a $26 billion settlement with drug distributors McKesson, Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson. Of the total, $210 million will go directly to municipalities and $310 million will go to the state Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund. The first two payments are expected to arrive this spring and summer and then in yearly installments from 2023 to 2028. They are the maximum allowed under the agreement.
Attorney General Maura Healey, who helped negotiate the settlement along with officials from other states, said the settlement stemmed from a four-year bipartisan investigation which found opioid distributors had “shipped thousands of suspicious orders” into Massachusetts “without regard for their legitimacy.” She underscored the companies “flooded our communities with dangerous opioids and got rich off our residents’ suffering.”
Standing beside a group of families that had been ravaged by opioids, Healey acknowledged the toll of the epidemic.
“So many families across so many realms and walks of life, every city and every town in this state,” she said, “have had visited upon them devastating loss, devastating crisis, devastating trauma.”
While local communities will decide how best to use the funds, Healey, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said she supports creation of safe injection sites, an approach opposed by Gov. Charlie Baker.
“I certainly have supported efforts in harm reduction and safe injection sites are part of that,” she said. “From the beginning, we have all recognized this as the public health crisis that it is and it necessitates innovative thinking, innovative approaches, and. certainly, we should do everything we can to save lives.”
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said that she will be looking to expand access to recovery services for residents and to continue breaking down the stigma around mental health and recovery.
“Our need for services is not a testament to our humanity,” she said. “The true testament is how we respond to that need, which is so widely felt throughout our communities. So, together, we will ensure that these services are available, accessible, and effective.”
Ruthanne Fuller, Newton mayor and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, highlighted the fact that Massachusetts received almost triple the amount most other states received. She said that these funds which are going to “save lives in every one of our communities.”
“These funds give hope to thousands and thousands of people,” she said. They’re going to fortify the community-based programs that will meet people where they are. These funds will save lives.”
Cheryl Juaire, a member of the family advisory council, called the opioid epidemic the “worst man-made epidemic of our lifetime.” She lost two sons to opioids. “I am living proof of the horror of the opioid epidemic,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I do not confront the death and destruction that opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies have caused in our country and specifically in our state.”
Juaire said that she hoped significant amounts of the money from the settlement will go toward on-the-ground services such as the Harm Reduction Center and other recovery support organizations. “These services, when working hand in hand with medication-assisted treatment, and other forms of medication abatement, can and do make a tremendous amount of difference in our communities,” she said.
“Of course it’s not enough,” Healey said of the settlement. She highlighted the importance of focusing on all the wraparound services attached to addiction and mental health and emphasized the necessity of continuously working to combat the opioid epidemic.
“That’s what leaders are struggling with and grappling with day to day across the state,” she said. “Obviously there is so much more that we need to do in partnership, in collaboration, and I look forward to that.”