Olmsted County unveils plans for spending opioid settlement funds

(ABC 6 News) – Olmsted County has started to receive settlement funds through the State of Minnesota, which has signed onto several national settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The lawsuits named opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical distributors, and pharmacies for their role in prescribing dangerously addictive prescriptions, knowing the risk to patients. 

Olmsted County is set to receive $7.2 million from two rounds of settlements over the next 18 years. By the end of 2023, Olmsted County will have received more than $1.7 million

Olmsted County Public Health Services (OCPHS) has outlined its short-term approach to spending funds to address the opioid epidemic that has claimed more than half a million lives nationwide over the past two decades.  

“Our goal is to not only keep our community safe but also provide pathways to health and well-being for those affected by the opioid epidemic,” said OCPHS Community Health Specialist Abby Tricker. “The result of these efforts could prove vital for reducing the high toll of opioid-related deaths in the region.” 

OCPHS has convened stakeholder groups both internal to the county and external with community members. Through this work, OCPHS has focused on evidence-based strategies to make recommendations on using the opioid settlement funds. 

Short-term abatement strategies focus on naloxone distribution, harm reduction, recovery programs, and prevention. With these goals, the Olmsted County Community Corrections Diversity and Equity Community Outreach (DECO) team will be expanded to increase community outreach and education about substance use. To achieve this, three new employees will be added to the team and will respond to drug-related calls (similar to how the current team handles mental health calls). 

“We look forward to expanding the efforts of our DECO team as part of Olmsted County’s commitment to addressing substance use in our community,” said DECO Program Manager Sidney Frye. “Through greater outreach and education, our DECO team will work to raise awareness, promote understanding, and empower individuals and communities to take action.” 

In addition to the expansion of the DECO team is an implementation of a digital mental health tool to serve the community.  

“With the settlement funds, we are taking a strategic approach to address the root causes of opioid addiction and death,” said OCPHS Director Denise Daniels. “Our core team, advisory committee, and community partners are committed to taking action so we can help save lives and address the local impact of this epidemic.” 

OCPHS is also planning to use settlement funds to develop long-term opioid abatement strategies. These will be announced at a later date.