How suburban counties are spending opioid settlement money

With millions of dollars flowing into their coffers from landmark settlements with opioid companies, suburban county governments are mapping out how to spend some of the money.

Lake County is slated to receive direct settlement payments totaling about $8 million over the next 18 years, according to the state’s attorney’s office. DuPage County expects to receive approximately $15 million to $20 million over the same period.

The funds come from settlements of lawsuits brought by state and local governments against pharmaceutical distributors, manufacturers and retailers accused of fueling the opioid crisis.

“The reason DuPage County filed suit is because we’ve suffered tremendous losses, both in terms of human tragedy and financial losses, dealing with the opioid epidemic,” DuPage State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said.

So far, the county has netted about $2.2 million since it began directly receiving settlement money last year. County board members recently approved using $850,000 in settlement dollars to help staff a crisis recovery center set to be built next year on the DuPage health department campus in Wheaton.

  DuPage County officials plan to break ground this spring on a crisis recovery center between the health department building, at left, and the Linda A. Kurzawa Community Center, at right. (John Starks/, April 2023) John Starks/, April 2023

The $25.8 million center will serve as an alternative to the hospital emergency room. Adults and young people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis will be able to access stabilizing care in the new facility.

The health department operates a countywide crisis hotline, serves as a call center for the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and has a mobile crisis response team. The crisis recovery center will provide residents with a treatment plan or course of action within 24 hours of their arrival.

“What we’re trying to achieve is this best practice national model of when a community member is in a moment of crisis, they have someone to call, someone to respond and somewhere to go,” DuPage Health Department Executive Director Adam Forker said.

‘Expansion of services’

With the $850,000 in settlement funds, Forker plans to hire 17 key employees for the center — psychiatric nurses, crisis counselors, certified medical assistants and peer specialists — by the end of next year. The center is slated to open in 2025.

“Even though we don’t have the building yet, some expansion of services we can do now just through that hiring in 2024 and with our current space,” Forker said.

Kane County has received $1.176 million to date. An ad hoc committee of law enforcement and public health officials is tasked with distributing settlement payments.

“In my research, all of the counties are dealing with this money in different ways,” Kane State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser told the five-member committee when it first convened in August. “We here in Kane County chose to do it this that law enforcement and the health department, who are the experts in dealing with this opioid issue, were at the table.”

Committee members last month approved the first allocation: $103,284 to reimburse the county sheriff for expenses related to establishing a new forensics lab.

The in-house laboratory ― a joint operation of the sheriff, coroner and state’s attorney ― will help get toxicology test results back faster in cases of suspected overdose deaths. The coroner recorded 78 opioid-related deaths in both 2021 and last year.

“We’re trying to enhance our ability to gather data about what’s happening in the community around overdoses, so we’ve invested in some additional lab capacity locally,” said Kane Health Department Executive Director Michael Isaacson, who chairs the committee.

The settlement money also could help get Narcan, or naloxone, into the hands of more people. The health department offers free naloxone ― a lifesaving medication that can reverse opioid overdoses ― and distributes fentanyl test strips that can detect whether drugs are laced with the potent synthetic opioid.

“With the dramatic increase in fentanyl, with fentanyl showing up in more things, including cocaine, it’s requiring us to change our strategies,” Isaacson said.

‘Does not undo the damage’

In the first four months of this year alone, there were 27 fatal overdoses solely from fentanyl in Lake County ― nearly four times the number of fentanyl overdoses in all of 2021.

To date, Lake County has received a total of $1,121,895 in settlement money. The county board has so far approved the hiring of an opioid program coordinator and funding for the regional office of education to provide Narcan training to school employees and other educational efforts.

Hired in November, the county’s opioid program coordinator is responsible for ensuring that funds will be used in accordance with settlement agreement requirements.

“While the devastation to individuals, families, and communities by the recent actions of a manufacturer, distributors and providers has led to the opioid settlements received to date, this settlement does not undo the damage that has been done,” Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in a statement, adding that the funds will be used “to further assist those with substance use disorders and prevent further loss of life.

“We are committed to seeking out and receiving additional opioid settlement funds that have been provided to the state to build additional treatment capacity both locally and regionally.”

In addition, 55% of the total funds allocated to Illinois under national settlement agreements are being placed in a statewide remediation fund from which units of local government can seek additional funding for programs and services aimed at curbing the crisis.

The DuPage County Health Department, for example, has been working with community partners to “encourage the state to invest those funds back into supporting prevention and education, treatment and recovery programs, funds for sober living and recovery homes and, really importantly, family support,” Forker said.

State’s attorney Berlin sits on the board of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization that has called for more funding for early intervention services and voluntary home-visiting programs designed to help parents with substance use issues find treatment.

“There’s no question that the data and the research show that high-quality preschools, after-school programs, drug education, keeping pregnant women off of narcotics, off of drugs, that pays dividends in the future,” Berlin said, “because we will see better outcomes.”

Payments to the Illinois Remediation Fund are projected to continue to 2038. Suburban advocates and public health officials have been appointed to an advisory board charged with making recommendations for the distribution of those funds based on population, overdose deaths and other factors.

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