Ending the opioid crisis starts with proper distribution of settlement payouts
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The opioid crisis is an ever-present and increasingly deadly epidemic impacting the lives of families in every community across America. The BAD news is that 2020 saw a devastating increase in opioid deaths. Over 93,000 Americans died, which was an increase of nearly 30 percent from 2019. This was the most ever recorded in a 12-month period. As it stands today, so many people are dying of accidental opioid overdoses that it has become a more likely cause of death than a car crash. The GOOD news is that state and local governments are working to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable… but once litigation is settled, where do the settlement funds go?  

In the ‘90s, there was much controversy surrounding the way payouts from high-profile litigation against tobacco companies were directed despite an agreement that the money would be used to fund smoking-related prevention and cessation programs. That history should be avoided in the case of recent and ongoing opioid-related settlements. Drug take-back programs, accessible treatment, and extensive education programs are some of the solutions that will put us as a society on the right track towards ending the opioid crisis… but they need funding to work.

A recent $26 billion settlement between several states and drug companies is set to begin paying out next year. To reverse this devastating trend of increased opioid-related deaths, it’s more important than ever that these funds are distributed to the most effective programs and organizations that work to end this epidemic. That’s why the National Safety Council is so pleased to see bipartisan support from several members of Congress who are working to encourage state and local governments to ensure that some reasonable portion of the funding will go towards drug take back programs.

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In late July, Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyMcBath to run in neighboring district after GOP redrew lines Trump backs one GOP lawmaker over another in West Virginia primary Lawmakers who bucked their parties on the T infrastructure bill MORE (R-W.Va.) introduced a resolution with Rep. David TroneDavid John TroneMaryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme Alabama Republican touts provision in infrastructure bill he voted against House GOP campaign arm expands target list after brutal night for Dems MORE (D-Md.). The resolution, which now has eight co-sponsors equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, would encourage state and local governments to use a portion of proceeds from any litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors to increase participation in drug take-back programs. These programs facilitate the safe disposal of unused medications to remove opportunity for diversion, or illegal use of these drugs. NSC enthusiastically supports this resolution to remove drugs from homes and destroy them in a responsible manner.

Since 2012, NSC has been a proud resource for employers, families and prescribers on the opioid crisis.  A timeline of the NSC strategy shows a variety of efforts made to fight prescription drug overdoses—the fastest-rising cause of unintentional death in the U.S.

The opioid crisis takes more than 130 lives each day and requires a coordinated, immediate response from various stakeholders, including national leaders in Congress. We urge H.Con.Res. 42 to be enacted soon. It will encourage state and local governments to take tangible steps to address the epidemic, specifically more resources devoted to lifesaving drug take back programs. Together, we will save thousands of lives every year.

Jenny M. Burke, J.D., M.S., is senior director of the Impairment Practice at the National Safety Council.