Carter County, and eastern Kentucky, are still suffering from the opioid epidemic inflicted upon us by an uncaring and profit-driven pharmaceutical industry.
Let’s make no bones about it. Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler Family, targeted Appalachia – including eastern Kentucky – in their bid to get rich off of addiction, and they did. They made a ton of money off the families of those they made derisive jokes about in their internal documents and digital communications.
This is why, when the time came, the company was eager to settle with states, counties, and municipalities rather than face their days in court in each of the multitudinous communities they helped destroy.
It was cheaper for them, and they didn’t have to face the families. No facing their guilt and they get to keep a bigger chunk of their payday – the settlement with the state was definitely the best move for them as a company.
It may not have been the most just move. Justice would have been stripping the company, and the Sackler Family, of all their ill-gained lucre. But it does mean the impacted communities will each get something, with little work on their part.
Now, however, communities are facing the choices of how to spend that money; and there are plenty of groups, and businesses, in line hoping to scoop out a share for themselves.
But just what can communities spend that money on, and what’s the best use of it for the towns and counties who are still cleaning up the mess Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers made and left behind?
There has been talk of using it for law enforcement. According to reports from last week’s special session of Grayson City Council there was chatter about using Grayson’s share of the opioid settlement money to fund the cost of adding a K-9 unit to the Grayson Police Department.
On the surface it might seem like a good idea. K-9 units can be trained to sniff out drugs, and they could be a useful asset in battling the network of illicit traffickers who’ve filled the void left behind by Purdue Pharma and tightened pharmaceutical controls.
But is that an approved use of the settlement money?
According to a fact sheet put out by KACo, or the Kentucky Association of Counties, it may not be. That three page document, on acceptable uses for the funds obtained through the National Opioid Settlement, seems to indicate that the funds must be used to repair the damage caused by the drug epidemic. It doesn’t indicate it can be used for continued law enforcement – even drug related enforcement. What it can be used for is treatment, detoxification, and support – including medical and housing support – for those in recovery and their families.
In short, it must be used for the benefit of individuals and families who suffered from the exploitative marketing practices of Purdue Pharma.
While combatting drug trafficking is an important part of law enforcement’s role, and keeping drugs out of the community can help keep addicts from relapsing, that isn’t what the settlement money was earmarked for.
The settlement does allow money to be utilized by law enforcement, but only in very specific areas. For instance, the money can be used to purchase Narcan and to provide training to law enforcement in the administration of the life-saving opioid blocker. It can also cover opioid related emergency response costs, no matter which service is providing the assistance. This includes law enforcement. But the settlement stipulations are clear that it must be for these types of services, including training for law enforcement or other first responders “regarding appropriate practices and precautions when dealing with opioids or individuals with (opioid use disorder) or co-occurring (substance use disorder/mental health) issues.”
Nowhere in the settlement documentation does it say the money can be used directly for law enforcement, however.
What it does allow is the use of the money for programs like the Pathfinder Initiative, a non-profit intervention programs for youth that very clearly meets the criteria for “treat(ing) mental health trauma… of opioid users or their family members,” and “engaging nonprofits, the faith community, and community coalitions to support prevention… (and) family members.”
We’re not opposed to a K-9 joining the Grayson police force. But that isn’t what the opioid settlement money was earmarked for, and it might not be the best way to heal our community and those families suffering with addicted members.
That’s what these funds are for, and it’s something our county and cities need to keep in mind.