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County ponders how best to spend opioid abuse suit funds


HUDSON—Columbia County is slated to receive $2.2 million by 2038 in Opioid Settlement Funds and needs to decide how to use the money, County Director of Community Services Dan Almasi told the county Health and Human Services Committee October 18. He expects the money to come in irregular amounts each year. This year the county has received $400,000 of it and is likely to get $100,000 more, he reported.

Columbia County joined other counties and political units in class action lawsuits against opioid marketers such as Johnson & Johnson and Purdue, because of problems caused by opioid abuse, addiction and overdoses. The $2.2 million is from the suits that have already reached settlement. More might come from suits still in progress.

Now, “how do we want to allocate the money?” Mr. Almasi asked. Restrictions on how to use it are “broad,” he said. “We need to have a positive impact on those who were negatively impacted by the opioid epidemic.”

Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors Matt Murell (R-Stockport), has asked Mr. Almasi, Social Services Director Bob Gibson and Public Health Director Jack Mabb to organize a work group to establish a plan for using the funds. To start, Mr. Almasi suggested some ideas for comment at the Health and Human Services Committee.

Possibilities for using the money include current programs aimed at helping opioid abusers and new initiatives for the whole community. Examples of the former include the Mobile Crisis Team, Multidisciplinary Field Support, and the county jail’s Medically Assisted Treatment program. Using settlement funds for some of these programs will remove those programs from the taxpayers’ obligations, Mr. Almasi observed.

Ideas for new initiatives have ranged from wellness centers to homeless programs to youth centers. By providing alternates to substance abuse, some programs could stop new problems before they start.

‘We need to have a positive impact on those who were negatively impacted by the opioid epidemic.’

Dan Almasi

County Director of Community Services

Catholic Charities has worked with the county on substance abuse prevention, but it is stopping after this year. “I’m getting nervous about December 31 approaching and us having no preventive services,” Mr. Almasi said.

Calls to Catholic Charities for details were not returned.

“What about allocating the money directly to the people most affected?” someone asked. That would be hard to define, people pointed out. Does the term “most affected” include children of overdose victims? The grandparents who raised them? Their schools? Their social workers? Where does it stop?

Where could the money have the most impact?

“Housing,” Mr. Almasi answered immediately.

That overlaps with Department of Social Services concerns, meeting participants noted.

Meanwhile, despite everything the county is doing, the overdose numbers are going up, observed one supervisor.

“Can you imagine how much higher they would be if we weren’t doing it?” asked another.

Also at the committee meeting, Mr. Almasi forewarned that more substance abuse challenges are coming. “There is stuff that chemists are making that make fentanyl look like child’s play,” he said of the highly addictive and deadly drug.

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