The opioid epidemic is not over. After two decades, it continues to rip holes in our families, devastate our communities, overwhelm our public health resources and inundate our foster care system with its young, innocent victims.
Fentanyl overdoses are still skyrocketing.
Fortunately, hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed resources for improved and expanded treatment options, youth-focused prevention strategies, support for first responders and other evidence-based programs and services that can save lives and preserve families are within reach. These crucial funds are possible thanks to the Office of the Attorney General’s lawsuit against the Big Three opioid distributors. The resources will come from the very companies that helped fuel the opioid epidemic, not from local taxpayers.
Moreover, under this resolution, the state of Washington achieves a better outcome than every other state because we took these corporations to trial. Washington is primed to receive $46 million more to combat the epidemic than we would have received had we taken their offer before the trial began.
But these hundreds of millions of dollars in resources and the promise they bring to ease this epidemic are not guaranteed. Every Washington county and every city with a population of more than 10,000 residents must sign onto the agreement or our communities and public health officials will not receive the full amount of these funds.
While no dollar amount is enough to make up for the pain Washington families have suffered, this resolution provides almost a half a billion dollars in additional resources to help prevent the next family from losing a loved one. Commissioner Lisa Janicki, co-author of this Op-Ed, lost her son Patrick to an opioid overdose in 2017, following an addiction to pain pills after a climbing accident. If this money stops just one more family from feeling that anguish, it is all worth it. This money can do much more.
At almost every public speaking event we attend, we hear from members of our community about the devastating loss of loved ones and about those they fear losing. While these resources cannot undo the harm the epidemic has already caused, it can help our public health officials to turn this crisis around as soon as possible. This resolution, if approved by Washington local government officials, offers the possibility of relief for public health programs now. This includes resources to address fentanyl abuse in our communities. If enough cities and counties approve this settlement, the first payments will arrive on Dec. 1.
Nearly all of us know a family member, friend or acquaintance who has been impacted by this epidemic. We are not powerless. Reach out to your local city or county officials, and ask them if they’ve signed on to the resolution so these critical dollars can begin to flow into communities across the state.
We urge Washington cities and counties to sign on to the distributor settlement by the Sept. 23 deadline. Our communities desperately need these resources to continue the hard work of repairing the incredible damage the opioid epidemic has left in its wake.