How McHenry County might use settlement money to battle the opioid epidemic
From prevention to recovery, dozens of McHenry County agencies fighting the opioid epidemic are proposing the best use of their share of the recent $3.4 million settlement the county was allocated in a global Big Pharma settlement.
The McHenry County Mental Health Board will distribute $1.7 million of the county's $3.4 million portion of the $26 billion awarded globally last year. The funds are a part of a negotiated settlement of a 2017 lawsuit filed against large opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The mental health board is determining which programs to fund based on "what would have the biggest impact with the money," said Laura Crain, program coordinator at the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Almost 60 agencies and nonprofits that serve McHenry County were asked to provide input to help give the mental health board a "clear vision" of the best use of the funds, Crain said.
The other half of the $3.4 million will be invested. The interest off that sum will be dispersed and reinvested to create or support addiction prevention and treatment programs, Crain said.
In 2017, when McHenry County joined the lawsuit, 73 deaths because of opioid overdose were recorded, according to the McHenry County Department of Health. That number fell to 49 in 2018 and 31 in 2019. A slight rebound was seen in 2020 to 47. In 2019, the number of deaths recorded was 32.
The money is expected to be available to the county sometime in August. Those programs chosen would submit formal requests and could see the funding sometime next year, Crain said.
"The board will look at what other agencies provide, what do we have, what do we want, what does our community need, and what does that look like," Crain said.
To Live4Lali Executive Director Laura Fry, that need and want looks like recovery coaches, prevention and tending to mental health issues before they turn into an addiction, also called substance use disorder.
"I believe the majority of substance use disorder comes from mental health and trauma," Fry said. "We continue to put Band-Aids on what I see is an amputation."
Live4Lali, based in Arlington Heights, helps provide items to people who are active in their substance use disorder in the hopes they are doing so safely. Through a mobile unit, Fry and others travel to suburban Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties, providing clean syringes, snorting kits, fentanyl test strips and naloxone.
"OK, let's get Narcan. OK, let's get test strips. All of that is important, but what we are never getting to is the why. Why is this happening?" Fry said. "We have a huge shortage of mental health professionals."
Similarly, Chris Reed, managing partner at Crystal Lake-based Northern Illinois Recovery Center and board president at New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, said the money needs to be put toward something sustainable and long-term. It should be used to "fill in the gaps," such as providing better access to mental health services to people before they turn to drugs and develop a disorder.
There also are gaps in continuing, long-term, outpatient care and personalized treatment plans tailored to the individual and their family, Reed said.
Although millions of dollars will be coming to the county from the settlement, the money will go quickly and "is not nearly enough to solve the issue long term," Reed said.
"We need to come up with creative ways to serve the uninsured and underinsured," Reed said. "We need something cost-effective and sustainable."