Editorial by The Traverse City (Michigan) File-Eagle: Opioid disaster: Where do we go from right here? | Editorials

More than $7.2 million from a national $26-billion opioid lawsuit settlement will be handed out across an eight-county region in northwestern Michigan starting at the end of this month — and we have a suggestion where the money should go.

Much has been written and reported about the opioid crisis in America. Most of us have heard accounts of how the problem evolved from prescriptions issued by licensed doctors for legitimate pharmaceuticals.

Then, the misuse of pain medication developed into addictions and some users graduated from heroin to fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a highly addictive manmade opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. The US Drug Enforcement Administration reported sizing more than 50.6 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder in 2022.

That’s double what the DEA had seized the year before. And still the country’s being flooded with it.

If you ask sources at the DEA, they’ll tell you their top operational priority is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels—the Sinaloa and Jalisco (CJNG) Cartels—that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl killing Americans today.

Most of the fentanyl trafficked by the Sinaloa and CJNG Cartels is being mass-produced at secret factories in Mexico — with chemicals sourced largely from China.

Most law-abiding citizens could never conceive of coming in contact with such a threat, but the problem is insidious.

US Attorney of the Western District Mark Totten was in Traverse City a couple of months ago and his main message was an expression of urgency about the threat fentanyl poses to the general public, particularly teenagers.

Teens can be reached through social media, he pointed out. And drug traffickers have expanded their inventory to sell fentanyl in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes. Rainbow fentanyl was first reported to DEA in February 2022, and now has been seized in 21 states.

Meanwhile, adults may be equally at risk, especially if they’re looking to save money online. Some fake pills have been fashioned to closely resemble legitimate pharmaceuticals, so authorities advise people to fill their prescriptions with licensed pharmacists. The DEA states flatly that no pharmaceuticals purchased through social media are safe.

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So what are we to do?

The best answer we have at this point lies with the money from the opioid lawsuit settlement.

Three opioid distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, along with manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its parent company Johnson & Johnson — collectively will pay up to $21 billion over the next 18 years.

The opioid funds settlement that the state receives will be directed to the Michigan Opioid Healing and Recovery Fund, created by the Legislature in 2022. The Legislature also created the Opioid Advisory Commission to make recommendations on the state’s opioid fund.

The national agreement requires significant industry changes intended to focus on prevention, state officials said.

Counties are advised to spend their settlement funds on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery and those individuals who became involved in the criminal justice system as a result of opioids. The Michigan Association of Counties provides a list of expenditures that qualify under the settlement agreement.

Along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the northwestern part of the state, the Michigan Association of Counties reported that the estimated payouts designated for the eight counties are: Grand Traverse, $2,958,527; Manistee, $1,081,335; Antrim, $824,961; Charlevoix, $662,901; Emmet, $541,944; Benzie, $482,501; Leelanau, $428,724; and Kalkaska, $294,036.

The possible uses for these funds are clearly spelled out and counties should carefully adhere to those requirements.

One potential recipient we’ve been impressed with is Harm Reduction Michigan, a local organization that embraces a realistic view and a pragmatic approach to the opioid crisis.

This funding that will be coming to the counties sounds like a lot of money. But the price in human lives and suffering by thousands of families in Michigan amounts to far more — and that can never be repaid.

— The Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle

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