Summit County Council has approved spending $104 million in opioid settlement funds, but a committee that will determine how to use the money won't be fully formed until the spring. So it sits, unspent.
Greta Johnson, assistant chief of staff to County Executive Ilene Shapiro, said federal Judge Dan Polster has made it clear this should be spent more responsibly than tobacco settlement money from the 1990s.
"I certainly understand that there is a public request for us to spend the money and spend it fast," Johnson said. "There is also a huge responsibility on the executive to make sure we get this right."
The Opioid Abatement Advisory Council will be selected by a group that includes Shapiro, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda, Barberton Mayor Bill Judge and Coventry Township Trustee George Beckham. Barberton and Coventry were hit particularly hard by the epidemic, Johnson said.
“The full council will certainly have less than 20 members,” but no final number is set, according to Johnson. Once members are selected, they will form subcommittees, she said, and "work with service providers, folks with lived experience in recovery whether it's themselves personally or a family member, whether it's engaging with our recovery court judges, our ADM [Alcohol, Drug Addiction, Mental Health] board officials, folks like that."
The advisory council will focus on treatment, harm reduction, closing gaps that exist in treatment and long-term planning.
"If a mom is pregnant and addicted, we want to take care of that situation the best that we can," Johnson said. "Wrap services around her, provide prenatal care and we want to get that baby to the first birthday. But then what happens after that first birthday?
"We have taken more children into our CSB [Child Services Board] custody than ever before as a result of this epidemic and we don't know what their needs are going to be 10 years from now," Johnson said.
The county's attorney fees will be 25 percent of the cash settlement and does not include the value of medication or treatment products from drug manufacturers, Johnson said.
The next phase of the trial against pharmacies including CVS, Walgreens and Discount Drug Mart is scheduled to begin in October.