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County to seek input before deciding use for opioid settlement

ALPENA — County leaders will seek the advice of people involved with addiction-fighting efforts as they decide how to spend more than $1 million headed toward the county in coming months.

On Tuesday, Alpena County commissioners agreed they would hold off until the county’s portion of several billion-dollar lawsuit settlements reaches the county before deciding what to do with it.

The money must be used to combat the negative effects of an opioid crisis that has resulted in more than 500,000 overdose deaths, according to the terms of multiple settlements with drug manufacturers and distributors.

County commissioners have heard from multiple local agencies, including Catholic Human Services, Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health, District Health Department No. 4, the Alpena County Jail, and the 88th District Court drug court, all suggesting ways the county could use the money to fight drug addiction in Alpena.

Recovery advocates have suggested the money could fund transitional housing, a multi-tiered drug court, salaries for corrections officers so the jail can provide better programming, recovery-specific medical care, body-worn technology that can stop overdoses, and other uses.

Until the money actually reaches the county, commissioners won’t try to decide which idea would best serve the county.

But, when the time comes, commissioners will ask local groups with expertise in fighting addiction for guidance, said Mary Catherine Hannah, Alpena County administrator.

The settlement terms allow the companies to pay gradually, so Alpena County’s promised $1.1 million will be spread over up to 20 years.

The first expected payment of $65,000 may reach Alpena by year’s end, Hannah said.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office initially said disbursements would begin in April, then pushed that date back to July.

The Attorney General’s Office said it has not yet sent out any initial settlement payments. Fund distribution is not at the discretion of that office, but the Attorney General “is optimistic that payments will be made relatively soon,” a spokeswoman said.

Commissioner Bob Adrian at a Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday suggested using the Northern Michigan Regional Entity, an organization that coordinates addiction-related prevention, treatment, and recovery support services in northern Michigan, to help the county vet the many suggestions for use of the opioid settlement money it expects to receive in coming months.

Alpena County stands to receive $1.1 million from the opioid settlement, with $500,000 anticipated to go to Presque Isle County and about $300,000 each to Montmorency and Alcona counties, according to figures released by the Attorney General’s Office in January.

Other pending lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies could mean more settlement money for communities in the future, and county leaders can apply for state grants to support potential addiction-fighting programs.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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