Millions from opioid settlements arrive for Mass. cities and towns

Massachusetts cities and towns expect to see some substantial deposits drop into their coffers.

The first payments from a $26 billion national settlement with three opioid distributors and one pill manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson. Massachusetts’ total share, worth about $533 million, was distributed Friday.

“From the start, these cases have been about making sure that every dollar goes toward treatment and recovery,” said Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement. “Now, with millions of dollars starting to come in this year, I look forward to putting these recoveries to good use quickly.”

Healey’s office was among the first to sue companies and individuals that allegedly fueled the opioid crisis.

Municipalities are scheduled to receive $23.6 million this year. Payments of varying amounts will continue through 2038. The money must be spent on efforts to reduce overdose deaths.

Springfield has announced plans to boost staffing for 911 response calls among other uses for the city’s $814,000 first year payment. In Salem, which expects to receive $148,000 this year, Mayor Kim Driscoll said she wants to maintain existing harm reduction programs, but also consider regional strategies.

“We have had some outreach with the city of Boston,” Driscoll said. “We know that substance use disorder doesn’t stop at any city or town line.”

Cities and towns can choose from a long list of prevention, harm reduction, community, treatment and recovery options, and use of the funds will vary. Brookline expects to get about $195,000 in the first year and prioritize prevention of alcohol and marijuana use among youth.

“We know that earlier drug use of other substances can increase your risk of substance use later in life,” said Sigalle Reiss, director of public health and human services in Brookline. “So we work to create a new social norm on substance use that allows people to have more confidence in making healthy choices and feeling supported.”

Healey’s office said some payments may be accelerated, so exact totals for this year are still in flux. Municipalities said they are grateful for the money, but uncertainty about when the funds are coming and rules that govern when they must be spent makes planning difficult.

Some smaller towns plan to pool funds to make better use of the money. Gardner, which expects to receive about $73,000, said it will likely collaborate with Templeton, Winchendon, Ashburnham and Westminster to hire a recovery clinician. Gardner Mayor Mike Nicholson said this person, working through a local program, will help guide people to treatment.

“The resources are out there,” said Nicholson, “but someone who’s in crisis might not have knowledge or ability about where to look.”

Nicholson said discussions about how to spend the settlement money are having an unexpected benefit.

“We’re seeing a shift in the stigma,” Nicholson said. “It’s becoming something that’s part of regular conversation. You don’t feel awkward bringing it up.”

Leaders in Berkshire County, where fatal overdoses increased 11% last year, expect to pool resources there as well and are leaning toward boosting funds for existing programs and services rather than starting something new. Dick Alcombright, a former North Adams mayor, said in an email that he’s urging decision makers to take their time.

“This money is built on the backs of so many people who died after an overdose and their families,” he said. “We want to spend it carefully.”

Under an agreement, cities will get 40% of the settlement funds from Johnson & Johnson and the three distributors: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. The other 60% of the funds goes into the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund (ORRF), a trust managed by the state. That fund is expected to have received nearly $75 million by October, 2022.

The Baker administration has already started spending money from prior opioid settlements in four areas established by an advisory council.

  • To expand harm reduction, the state is using $3.4 million to create a subsidized naloxone (Narcan) purchasing program and make fentanyl test strips available through a state-run clearinghouse.
  • To increase access to methadone, a drug used to treat an addiction to opioids, the state has added about 2,000 new patients by funding mobile units and more office-based programs. The cost, to date, is $3.1 million.
  • To offer more stability for people managing an addiction, the trust fund has contracted with 12 programs that are expected to secure permanent housing for 210 people by the end of this month.
  • To improve community outreach, the state aims to develop a model for reaching more people who both use drugs and have mental health problems but don’t know about or use available care.

The state also plans to allocate $15 million from opioid settlements to loan repayment program for people enrolled in programs to become counselors, clinicians, recovery coaches or other jobs in mental health and addiction treatment.

The settlement funds arrive as overdose deaths rise again in Massachusetts and new drugs complicate efforts to reverse the trend. It’s not clear how much cities and towns will coordinate with the state.

“The interconnectedness of these funds, as well as other state dollars is something to be mindful of,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders during a meeting about state spending priorities last month. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity.”

There may be other ways to coordinate and leverage funds as well. Massachusetts is in the midst of a three year, $89 million, study that aims to reduce overdose deaths by 40%. And Healey’s office says there are more opioid settlements in the works that may be shared with cities and towns.


Headshot of Martha Bebinger

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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