GILLETTE, Wyo. – With thousands of dollars flowing into Campbell County from national opioid settlements, advocates say the funds should be used to support families, provide medication-assisted treatment, and possibly build a residential treatment facility.
So far, the county has received nearly $300,000 through the National Opioid Settlement Fund, the result of a nationwide settlement in a class action lawsuit brought against major pharmaceutical companies, according to County Grants Specialist Kristin Young, who addressed the Campbell County Commissioners during their meeting on March 7.
All companies involved in the settlement will pay billions of dollars over the next several years with some payments already finalized and being sent out, according to the opioid settlement website.
Campbell County Attorney Nathan Henkes said that the settlements were split between two; an initial settlement from which payments are stemming and subsequent settlements from companies like Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens also being tossed into the mix.
But how much will be paid to the county is up in the air; state and county percentage payouts have not been set in stone and several companies that were recently settled in the suit have yet to make any payments, Young said.
Though the money has started to come in, the question of how it is to be used remains unanswered.
According to Young, the Wyoming Office of the Attorney General has laid out specific conditions for the payouts in that they may only be used to fund treatment and prevention options or could go to first responders, services for children, training, and research.
Opioid addiction, Commissioner Jim Ford said, has affected people and communities across the country. He felt it was worth saying that efforts need to be made to ensure those funds are directed towards responses for treatment, and prevention, and to sectors within the community that have been directly affected.
Kay Guire, executive director of Personal Frontiers, Inc., requested her organization which relies on outside contributions and other sources to fund itself receive a portion of the funds to pay for its Medication-Assisted Treatment program.
“Additional funding of our MAT program will assist in helping us serve more clients, increase our level of service, and ensure the viability of our program,” Guire said.
The program has been in place since 2019, Guire said. It provides clients with case management, peer support, mental health assistance, and access to medication through an on-staff medical professional.
While it used to be funded through contributions from the Daniels Fund, a charitable foundation out of Denver, Colorado, that funding was ultimately lost following the actions of a former executive director who was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from the organization.
Guire said she is actively working on securing funding through the Daniel’s Fund once more, but running the MAT program in the meantime is expensive given the level of care required by PFI clients. On more than one occasion, the organization has considered ending the program altogether.
“But we have fought to keep it open because it does save lives,” Guire said, adding that program clients come from all walks of life. Some are pregnant or are on probation or parole while others are fresh out of residential treatment or have never been to a substance abuse treatment facility before.
Some of those clients, Guire said, cannot afford to be in the program and can’t pay for medication, treatment, and counseling, https://ryderclinic.com/valium-diazepam/.
PFI, she said, doesn’t turn anyone away due to an inability to pay, even if they lost money because of it.
“We always help a client whether we take the loss or not, we don’t care, because we just want to help people,” Guire said, adding that funds from the opioid settlement would help PFI cover those costs to its clients.
Another option for how the opioid settlement funds could be used was offered by Michelle Geffre, vice chair of the Campbell County CARE Board, who suggested the county consider using the funds to offer support for families with members suffering from addiction.
“Addiction is a family disease,” Geffre said. “It affects everyone in the house. I think if they allocate some money to family therapy as well, it would be really helpful both to the recovering persona and the community. It can be heart-wrenching, it can keep you out of work, and it can do a lot of damage even if you’re not the person who is using.”
Additionally, Geffre said the county could consider funding a community education approach that could serve as an anonymous space where someone could go to get answers on what’s happening when they or someone in their family is suffering from opioid addiction.
“You might be able to save somebody earlier before they need things like the MAT program, which I totally support, I just think there’s a lot of denial in this community and probably every community,” Geffre said. “I don’t know, people are affected more than they know.
She said that family treatment could be made available through a treatment center, an idea supported by Adult Treatment Court Program Coordinator Chad Beeman who agreed on the need for family programming when it comes to opioid addiction.
Family services are offered through the treatment courts, Beeman said, but in order to fully address those needs beyond the limitation of the courts, a residential treatment facility is needed.
Such a facility could offer more services to the community, Beeman said, adding that, right now, the Campbell County Detention Center is filled with people being held because they have a mental health issue.
Having a mental health issue doesn’t make someone a criminal, Beeman said, though he also said that those confined in jail have committed criminal acts because of their condition. That’s where a residential facility could come into play as a place to better treat their needs.
“I know it’s expensive to have something like that, but I think there are some options to start small,” Beeman said, such as staffing a wing in an existing facility using funding through the opioid settlement fund.
Commissioner Del Shelstad referenced statements from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon who recently said that opioid addiction is a statewide problem and publicly stated his commitment to pursue federal dollars to help get some residential treatment facilities in the state.
“Help may be on the way, I know our governor is fighting for it,” Shelstad said. “It’s not just this community, it’s everywhere and I think the family piece is important.”