Olmsted County lays out opioid spending plan

(ABC 6 News) – Billions of dollars being paid out by companies who contributed to a crisis that has taken the lives of more than half a million Americans. It’s settlement money, public health officials say, is badly needed as the number of people dying from opioids continues to rise.

“Some people really struggle to ask for help,” said Tim Volz who is metal health professional.

Volz knows the struggle firsthand. Now a mental health professional, he was once an addict himself. He says the millions of dollars coming from a multi-state opioid lawsuit is needed to fight the opioid crisis.

“Hopefully with this new money coming in people will go ‘oh hey, this is for treatment for opioid addiction. This is right up my alley. I am going to start asking for help,'” said Volz.

He says too many people don’t get the help they need. Between 1999 and 2020, more 564,000 people in this country died from an opioid overdose. And it’s not just a big city problem.

Olmsted County public health officials call the trend alarming.

In 2020, there were 12 overdose deaths due to opioids. The next year, nearly twice as many. And the year after that, 28.

“And that trend continues to go straight up in 2023 as well so. It’s definitely an issue I can tell you in 2022 65% of overdose fatalities for Olmsted County residents involved opioid use,” said Denise Daniels, the director of Olmsted County Public Health.

Over the next 18 years, Minnesota will get $300 million paid out by pharmaceutical companies connected to opioids. Olmsted County will get just over $7 million of that to fight the opioid epidemic locally.

Money the public health department says will be put to good use.

“Using our funds initially upfront to fund staff what would be able to help broadened access to naloxone otherwise known as Narcan. To really beef us and enrich our outreach strategies. We want to get to our youth early to build some life skills around it. And then to be able to provide resources and assistance for people when they are in a crisis or have just overdosed,” said Daniels.

Other funding will go to the Olmsted County Community Corrections Diversity and Equity Community Outreach Program also known as DECO. It will support three new staff members to educate people on the dangers of opioids.

“Those positions specifically would include a licensed alcohol and drug counselor who could provide comprehensive assessments for folks. We are also kind of looking for peer recovery specialists who have in many instances have lived experience,” said DECO Program Director Sidney Frye.

Hopefully preventing struggling addicts from becoming another deadly static. The county is also looking at long term strategies to use the settlement funds.

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