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Education, prevention seen as key uses for Salt Lake County’s $57M opioid settlement

Photo of pills spilling out of a prescription pill bottle
Roel Smart
A bottle of hydrocodone, a popular prescription semi-synthetic opioid that is used to treat moderate to severe pain.

Salt Lake County will receive a $57 million settlement as part of a nationwide lawsuit over opioids. The landmark agreement was between 46 states, several local governments and manufacturers and distributors.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson said it’s not enough to repair the damage to the community but it’s a start. It hasn’t been determined where the money will be spent but Wilson said 85% of it will go toward opioid abatement.

“That's education. That's programs that support youth and families in this journey,” she said. “Prevention, again, is so key. Harm reduction in this space is a possibility. There are a lot of possibilities to how we will return our community to days of health.”

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, Utah Naloxone’s medical director, has been providing feedback about these possibilities in her role as a committee member for the state’s opioid task force.

She said there needs to be a plan of action that contains an assessment of community needs. Plumb said state leaders can start by looking at some of the recovery resources that already exist.

“I think that there's a lot of room for expansion in areas that support people's paths to wellness that aren't funded now,” she said. “Support for housing, like sober living, for example, is an area where people who are having that transition phase between use and chaos and trying to get themselves on their feet — sober living is not cheap.”

She said there are many services that aren’t covered by private insurance companies or Medicaid.

There is also concern about how these funds will be used. According to a survey conducted by the opioid state task force, 47% of respondents felt it “unlikely” and “very unlikely” that the state would spend these funds in a meaningful way.

She said there has to be responsible spending as these funds get allocated.

“These are such unprecedented funds,” she said. “We've never had a dump of dollars like this before that could really not only save lives but ameliorate the harms of what's been done to folks.”

The task force has identified five key areas for the use of funds so far: prevention, treatment and recovery, harm reduction, criminal justice and expanding need of services to address opioid dependence and impacts.

Salt Lake County is expected to get its first round of funding in May. The rest will be spread out over the next 18 years.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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