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May 15, 2024

CT OKs $8M in opioid settlement money for a range of services

YEHYUN KIM / CT MIRROR Jess Morris packs harm reduction supplies, including Narcan, for a client in Norwich. The client said he used Narcan he received from a harm-reduction outreach program for two friends who overdosed on drugs.

Connecticut’s Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee voted on Tuesday to spend more than $8 million to expand the distribution of harm reduction supplies in the state and to boost existing programs that are focused on helping people who are tied up in the criminal justice system.

The committee members, which are responsible for allocating the state’s share of several national legal settlements, hope that money will help to reduce the number of overdose deaths in Connecticut tied to heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers.

Roughly $2.3 million of the newly approved funding will be used to purchase more than 60,000 doses of naloxone, the overdose reversing drug, which is commonly sold under the brand name Narcan.

Another $1.5 million will spent over the next three years to help to purchase clean syringes and other harm reduction supplies, which can help save the lives of active drug users and prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

More than $416,000 will go towards expanding and upgrading medication-assisted treatment sites in several Connecticut prisons, including the Brooklyn, Cheshire, MacDougal and Walker correctional facilities.

And the remaining $3.8 million will be used over three years to extend an existing pre-trial diversion program, which allows individuals who have been charged with non-violent crimes to receive probation and drug treatment instead of going to jail.

The $8 million that was allocated on Tuesday is only a portion of the more than $124 million that the committee has received to this point from the negotiated settlements with several nationwide opioid manufacturers, shippers and retailers.

In total, Connecticut is expected to receive roughly $600 million from the national legal settlements over the next decade and beyond, with a portion of that going to towns and cities in the state.

The advisory committee, which was created by state lawmakers in 2022 to help safeguard the state’s portion of the settlement funds, has been meeting since March 2023. But to this point, the committee has been extremely cautious when it comes to spending the settlement proceeds.

Any proposal for how the money should be used has to go through a multi-step process before it can be approved by the full advisory committee. And even then, the committee has shown reluctance to dole out the money too quickly.

In two earlier meetings, the advisory committee voted to approve $500,000 to buy harm reduction supplies and $4 million to pay for two new mobile methadone vans, which will be capable of dispensing that addiction treatment medication in more remote corners of the state.

But in both those cases, the committee members cut the initial funding recommendations in half.

That’s the primary reason the committee was asked to approve an additional $1.5 million for clean syringes and other harm reduction supplies on Tuesday.

Chris McClure, the chief of staff at the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the first wave of money for harm reduction supplies was quickly spent by nonprofit providers such as the Connecticut Harm Reduction Alliance in Hartford and Liberation Programs in Bridgeport.

“Those funds were rapidly utilized,” McClure told the committee members. “There was clearly demand for it.”

The committee members continue to accept and review other ideas for how to spend the opioid settlement funds.

And the committee leaders said they could vote on other funding proposals in the near future, including plans to install naloxone vending machines in various Connecticut communities.

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