Daily Herald opinion: Some opioid settlement money should be used to help kids

This editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

With Illinois poised to receive hundreds of millions of dollars as part of a nationwide settlement of lawsuits against prescription opioid distributors and manufacturers, a group of law enforcement officials is making a compelling case for how to spend some of that money.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonpartisan organization, says a portion of the settlement money should be committed to initiatives that help the youngest and most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic.

"Over the years, I've seen firsthand just how damaging the opioid epidemic has been and how many lives it has destroyed, both in DuĀ­Page County and statewide," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said last week. "This is particularly true and tragic when it comes to children."

According to Berlin, research shows that children who grow up in homes with opioid-addicted parents are more likely to face mental health struggles and suffer abuse. He said those kids also are more likely to develop substance abuse issues and become involved in crime as they grow up.

But Berlin and other members of Fight Crime say some programs can make a difference in the lives of those children.

Voluntary home-visiting programs help new and expecting parents with addiction problems connect with treatment options. Fight Crime says studies show that those initiatives reduce adverse childhood experiences, such as child abuse and neglect.

There are also early intervention services, such as physical, occupational, speech and other therapies for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities.

Having the state provide more funding to support these efforts makes sense.

Thanks to a settlement with an opioid manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, and three distributors, Illinois will receive roughly $760 million over 18 years. Two other lawsuit settlements will add to that funding total.

Some of the money will go to municipalities and counties for prevention and remediation efforts. Roughly 55% will go to the Illinois Remediation Fund. An advisory council will suggest ways to spend the money.

"As we consider which programs to invest settlement funding in, we must prioritize efforts that support vulnerable kids and their families and prevent further opioid abuse and crime," Berlin said. "It is vital that we assist the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and safeguard the future of all Illinois communities."

Hopefully, the state officials who ultimately will decide how to use the settlement money are listening.

There's been a rising death toll from overdoses across the state. Last year in Illinois, 3,013 people died from an opioid overdose, a 2.3% increase compared to 2020.

If there are programs that could mitigate the damage caused by the opioid epidemic, funding them deserves serious consideration. This settlement money gives Illinois a unique opportunity to help people struggling with addiction and ensure their children have the opportunity for the bright future they deserve.

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