NJ Preps For First Disbursement Of Funds From Opioid Settlement

The money — once it’s released — will support broad array of treatments for substance-use disorders at state and local levels

In March, New Jersey announced it was set to receive $641 million from the $26 billion federal opioid settlement against manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the three largest pharmaceutical distributors in the country — Cardinal Health, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen.

The state will receive half of the $641 million from the global settlement against the distributors and manufacturer, with the other half going to local governments throughout New Jersey. But as residents and their families continue to struggle with the ongoing effects of addiction and opioid-use disorder, the money from this settlement has yet to be deposited into state accounts.

Last year, about 3,081 people in New Jersey died from opioid-related overdoses, an increase from 2020 and 2019.

Funds expected in July

Brown Greer PLC, based in Richmond, Virginia, was chosen in late April as the nationwide settlement administrator to coordinate and distribute the money from the national opioid lawsuit to every participating jurisdiction in the country.

Since then, the company has worked across the country with states and local governments to begin distributing the first payments. New Jersey expects to begin receiving deposits to its accounts sometime in July.

“Our office, in collaboration with state agencies including the office of the attorney general, Department of Human Services, Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, Department of Corrections and Department of Labor, continues to review the relevant data and collaborate with public health officials, advocates and experts on substance-use disorder and harm reduction to seek the most effective allocation of the settlement money New Jersey will be receiving over the next 16 – 18 years,” said Christi Peace, deputy press secretary for Gov. Phil Murphy.

 “Decisions about how to spend the funds will be made on an ongoing basis, with a thoughtful and strategic approach that responds to evolving needs and evidence-based best practices,” Peace added. “The administration will continue to implement other programs and services through additional funding streams as well, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in New Jersey.”

Opioid legislation

A bill introduced in January by Sens. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and James Beach (D-Camden) aimed to create a fund in the Treasury Department called the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund. With this legislation, the state treasurer would be able to deposit New Jersey’s share of settlement money received from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors into the fund. This money would then be used for treatment and prevention programs.

“The number of suspected fatal overdoses from opioids statewide rose from just over 1,200 in 2011 to over 3,000 in 2020. That’s a staggering 40% increase over the last decade,” Singleton said. “This legislation would ensure that the $641 million in opioid settlement funds are being used to help those most impacted by the opioid crisis. It is our goal to effectively combat opioid abuse here in New Jersey by investing in not only recovery and treatment programs, but drug prevention as well.”

The bill also calls for the creation of the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council within the Department of Human Services. When money from the remediation fund is allocated to the human services department, the advisory council would help to assess where the money should go. The 13-member council would include the commissioner of health, commissioner of human services and attorney general.

The funds would go to services that promote prevention of substance-use disorder in young people through a public health education campaign, reduce the causes of health disparities that lead to unequal treatment of substance-use disorder in Black and brown communities and guide people who are at high risk for using drugs away from the criminal justice system and toward community-based services, like harm reduction programs.

But since early March, the bill has not moved out of the Assembly Budget Committee. Meanwhile, health care providers and people experiencing opioid-use disorder continue to seek funding and treatment.

Continuing need to treat opioid-use disorder

When the money coming from the $26 billion federal settlement is disbursed, it will be arriving at a time when there is an intense need to continue funding treatment and services for substance- and opioid-use disorders.

Through the first five months of 2022, there have been 1,242 suspected drug-related deaths across the state, according to the attorney general’s office.

One of the ways in which the Murphy administration has said the funds can be used is through harm reduction practices. Harm reduction is an approach to drug abuse that employs a series of strategies, including overdose prevention drugs like Naloxone and ensuring sterile syringes are available to people who inject drugs, while aiming to recognize the rights of these people and reduce the stigma about illicit drug use.

“Harm reduction is a tried-and-tested way to support people who use drugs to prevent overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C,” said Jenna Mellor, the executive director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. Mellor added that when people have access to harm reduction services, they’re five times more likely to start a treatment program that works for them, and three times more likely to stop using a substance that causes them problems. “And yet in New Jersey, we only have seven harm reduction programs serving a state of over 9 million people. We need harm reduction services in every corner, in every community and … a substantial investment in harm reduction will help us do that.”

The need for continued supportive services to treat addiction is echoed by Kendria McWilliams, the chief executive officer at Maryville Addiction Treatment Centers. The center provides support services like inpatient and outpatient treatment and medically supervised detox.

“Large and growing numbers of people continue to use substances and suffer from the disease,” McWilliams said. “There is a growing need for people to be served in terms of their mental health disorders, a growing number of adolescents are suffering from opiate-use and stimulant-use disorders. So there is absolutely a continued need to fund at increasing levels providers who provide treatment and medication-assisted support for people suffering from opioid use disorders.”

Original Article