Prosecutors and lawmakers are developing strategies to use settlement funds to help combat Utah’s opioid crisis

Utah lawmakers and community service providers met Monday to develop strategies for allocating funds from the Opioid Dispute Restriction Account. She is receiving money from settlements related to opioid lawsuits.

Last year, Utah received $309,114,000 from the settlement, which is expected to be paid over the next 18 years. So far, the state has already received $5.5 million from another settlement.

Though some proponents still debate how the money would be spent, everyone agreed: the funds would go toward tackling the state’s opioid crisis. From June 2020 to 2021, Utah saw a 19% increase in the total number of deaths related to drug overdoses, including opioids.

David Litvack, deputy director of the state’s Department of Human Services, said they were working with prosecutors to design a prioritized plan for distributing the funds.

“It’s a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money when we consider the impact opioids have had on our community,” Litvack said. “We truly have a tremendous opportunity and a rare opportunity to make a meaningful impact if we are thoughtful and strategic in allocating these dollars.”

He alluded to Colorado’s plan for allocating funds as a potential guide for modeling.

Odyssey House Chief Executive Officer Adam Cohen said he would like to see these funds used to support the public behavioral health system, expand access to underserved groups and provide more training opportunities for therapists to specialize in dealing with substance abuse .

He said Odyssey House is struggling with retaining and recruiting staff and could use some of the funding too.

“Across the system, we’re seeing a 20% vacancy rate,” said Cohen. “Wages for all levels of employees have increased exponentially over time. For mass therapists, we compete with private practice providers who only serve [commercially] funded patients and hospital systems. In many cases therapists are recruited for 30-50% more than we can offer.”

He said the consequence of these staffing issues is causing some providers to close programs at a time when demand for services is at an all-time high. Cohen pointed to the Odyssey House, where there are about 300 individual living quarters and 50 of those could not be used due to staff shortages.

“We have waiting lists around the block to get treatment,” he said. “So it really means no access to care or less access to care and a shrinking of the system.”

Litvack said they plan to have a draft blueprint in the coming days.

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