Ocean County has begun receiving funds stemming from judgments and settlements in a number of civil actions against the manufacturers of opioid painkillers, pharmacies and other entities that many have blamed for the ongoing opioid addiction epidemic. Officials have said the funding, locally, will be used for a number of anti-drug programs as well as treatment and prevention efforts.
“We’re really excited about building up our infrastructure, whether that’s getting into our schools, working with law enforcement, and it’s time when we can make some change in Ocean County and save some lives,” said Kim Reilly, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Unit Coordinator for the Ocean County Health Department.
County Administrator Michael Fiure said that under the settlement agreement with drug manufacturers, the county is required to set up an advisory council on how the funds should be spent.
“This committee has been meeting and doing surveys, talking to providers, and finding where the needs are,” said Fiure, adding that the settlement dollars can be spent in numerous ways, including direct treatment, housing services, and the training of healthcare providers to identify addicts.
This year, Ocean County will receive $2 million as a one-year payout which accounts for a number of entities that settled cases. The settlement agreement will keep many of the funds recurring for 18 years, though one affected pharmaceutical company is in bankruptcy. A separate settlement with Johnson & Johnson will be spread out over nine years. Cases against pharmacy chains have yet to be settled. Overall, Fiure said, the county is expecting more than $700,000 per year in settlement payments.
The funding can also be used for the purchase of Narcan – which can reverse overdoses in many cases when administered properly – plys counseling, outreach programs, pre-trial and post-adjudication treatment. Changes in New Jersey’s laws over the last several years have lessened the number of inmates at the Ocean County Jail, which had been one place where officials said treatment programs could have been implemented.
“When bail reform came about, we kind of got derailed on how we were going to provide treatment to people at the correctional facility,” said Fiure.
Commissioner Jack Kelly said the settlement funds should be viewed as “seed money” for more comprehensive education and treatment efforts.
“My daughter was a drug addict, and I know how much work has gone into trying to help her,” he said. “But not everyone has that level of support around them or those opportunities. The biggest failure of society is that we are not addressing the core issue, which is the addiction, and you have to do that through education. This money should just be considered seed money, because this is going to be a long-term, expensive project.”
Commissioner Bobbi-Jo Crea said the county is expected to roll out new programs funded by the settlements once they can be organized by the advisory committee and formally established by the board.
“While this is something that came from a very bad place, this is the real world, and this is the beginning of getting help to people,” Crea said. “They’ll help an awful lot of people in Ocean County. We need to do this and I’m grateful it’s available.”