Local governments start getting funding for opioid settlement

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ZANESVILLE — As opiate money has started pouring into Ohio, local governments are deciphering the rules on how they can spend it and creating the organizations to do so.

The state received $808 million from the National Opioid Settlement. Of that, 55% goes into a central fund, the OneOhio Recovery Foundation. A nonprofit foundation, One Ohio will come together to come together and vote on how the funding will be divided among 19 regions of the state to be distributed to local projects. Thirty percent will go to municipalities and the remaining 15 percent will go to the Ohio Attorney General’s office to cover legal costs.

The money can only be spent on “evidence-based, forward-looking strategies, programs and services used to expand the availability of treatments for people affected by substance use disorders, develop, promote and deliver evidence-based substance use prevention strategies, provide avoidance and awareness education, reduce the oversupply of licit and illicit opioids, and support the recovery of substance abuse services provided by qualified and duly licensed providers,” according to the memorandum of understanding signed by all participating organizations in the state.

Payments directly to municipalities will be made annually for 18 years. Locally, Muskingum County received $45,490 per year. The Town of Zanesville will receive $11,850.76. The Village of New Concord will receive $634.

Perry County will receive $20,926 and the Village of New Lexington will receive $1,123 per year. Morgan County will receive $7,561 and the Village of McConnelsville $331.

“It won’t solve all of our problems, but $45,000 is more than we have right now, and there’s definitely a need in this county,” Muskingum County Commissioner Cindy Cameron said. “The health department, the ZPD, the sheriff’s office, they’ll tell you what they see every day. We want them to be part of the conversation.” Cameron said she hopes schools can get involved too.

“You get what you get and you try to use that money efficiently. At first it doesn’t seem like a lot,” County Commissioner Mollie Crooks said. At over 18, “there are so many possibilities, so many ways to go about it”. Crooks said she looks forward to discussing these possibilities with a wide range of groups. “It’s amazing what people can come up with,” she said.

In addition to local funding, funds will be available at the regional level. “If we have other needs, we can offer it to the region and ask them to consider funding it,” Crooks added.

Muskingum, along with much of southeastern Ohio, is in Region 12 of the state.

Zanesville Mayor Don Mason is the Area 12 representative to the state-level foundation. The Area 12 Advisory Board is in the process of drafting bylaws to govern the operation of the group.

“What we’re working on is how do you make sure you move from the more rural area to the more urban parts of the region,” Mason said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but it can be overcome.”

The memorandum of understanding dictates how the money can be spent. The statewide foundation will be the one to vote to approve regional applications, Mason said.

“I want to make sure Southeast Ohio, all eight counties in our region, get our fair share,” Mason said. “I don’t think it’s a secret. Southeast Ohio has been hit hard by drug and opiate abuse.

“We have to make sure that we’re dealing with recovery and rehabilitation, so we have to make sure programs are funded in each of the service areas,” Mason said. The dividing lines inside the region are not “hard and fast”, he said. “It’s not like you live here, so you have to have your services here. Service providers can straddle county lines, and people living in the southern part of a county can already travel to the part north of another to get services.” We want to make sure there are funded and practical programs,” he said.

Mason said the regional council will be a diverse group of councilors and will facilitate communication between counties about what works and what doesn’t.

As for the city’s share of the settlement, just under $12,000 a year, Mason said he’ll work with the city council to see how they want to spend it. “Our goal is to go through the ways and means committee,” he said, and he plans to meet with Zanesville Police Department leaders to get their input as well.

Jennifer Lyle, Mayor of New Concord, said the village was pleased to participate in the settlement. “Our main goal is to make these funds have the greatest impact possible,” she said. “We want to save lives and deal with the toll of this pandemic.”

Avoiding state mistakes in tobacco regulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s will be important, Mason said. Originally supposed to be used for tobacco control, much of the money went towards efforts to ward off the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

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