LEE COUNTY – Lee County has assembled a committee to look into how to spend more than $1 million it is projected to receive in the next 15 years.
The county has received about $245,000 in settlements from manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers that have become a focus of the nation in regards to substance abuse. The settlements have come from potential lawsuits that lay the blame of the nation’s fight with opioid overdose at the feet of the manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies that have downplayed the addictive nature of the drugs.
The county joined the national class action lawsuit against the companies in 2022. In addition to the $245,000 as part of the National Opioid Abatement Trust, the county is scheduled to receive an additional $900,000 over the next 15 years in current settlements.
The panel consists of nine members with Brian DePriest representing Keokuk Police, Darren Ranck representing the non-incorporated communities in the county, Michele Ross, Lee County Health Department Administrator, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, and District 8B Judge John Wright.
Michele Ross said it's good there are representatives from all parts of the county, but she said to make a dent in the misuse, the county needs to have a strategy.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh I’m gonna try this, or we're gonna try this', we really need to have a comprehensive county plan of how we can all work together as partners, not just those of us at the table.”
She said the focus has to be on prevention, treatment, and recovery and not just one or the other.
“You also need people with lived experiences telling their story and helping guide what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “If you have someone incarcerated there and then they are released and what happens. They go back to using.”
She said building strategies around helping the person from incarceration into treatment and then recovery, and then staying recovered.
Lee County Supervisor Tom Schulz said a rough outline of a comprehensive strategy would allow the panel to evaluate how applications for funding would fit into the strategy.
Ross asked if the county should do a needs assessment and define areas of concern. She said one of those is the waiting period for treatment, which is as long as three months currently.
“By the time you get someone into treatment, they’ve either used again or have no interest in going,” she said.
Ross said she would take the lead on putting together a coalition to start looking at how to get a community needs assessment around substance abuse started.
Chuck Vandenberg, Lee County’s Grant Writer and American Rescue Plan Act funding administrator, is secretary of the committee and said the county could be in line to see more funding come in as other settlements work their way through the court system.
He said the county has already signed on to settlements with Teva/Allergan, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and CVS, which should generate a similar stream of funding to help the county deal with opioid abuse.
The revenue is generated off a formula based on the number of opioid related arrests and number of dispensed prescriptions in the county. The settlements are split among the states and Iowa has chosen to give just under half of its settlement funds to local governments. Ninety-eight of Iowa’s 99 counties have signed onto the lawsuits with only Davis County choosing not to participate.
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