Opioid Settlement Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Board members continued to consider the best ways to spend Oregon’s portion of national opioid settlement funds by focusing on prevention efforts on Wednesday.
The state legislature established the board in March 2022 through House Bill 4098 to determine how to allocate the state’s portion of funds that will be allotted as part of Oregon’s share of nationwide lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corporation.
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The state will receive a total of $325 million over 18 years, and received its first installment of funds from the settlement on July 29th last year, which provided $25 million for substance abuse initiatives.
The board will help allocate funds for opioid prevention, treatment, and recovery services to cities and counties across the state. Members began meeting monthly last winter, and continue to hash out details for fund allocation. They heard from prevention experts during Wednesday’s meeting.
Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Alcohol/Drug Prevention Systems Manager Tatiana Dierwechter noted that Oregon ranks highest in the nation for rates of illicit drug use disorder, prescription opioid misuse, and methamphetamine use. Fixing the crisis requires a comprehensive strategy to reduce the demand for/harm caused by drugs and alcohol, she said.
“Investments of over $1 billion by the Oregon Legislature in behavioral health transformation have laid the foundation for change in parts, but not all of, the continuum of care,” Dierwechter said. “I hope this is the start of a deeper conversation about prevention.”
Dr. Laura Chisholm, section manager of injury and violence prevention at OHA, said prevention allows communities to be proactive and prevent problems before they occur.
“Prevention is the only behavioral health approach that can keep new cases of negative health outcomes from occurring,” Chisholm said. “We already have scientifically-supported tools to help prevent substance use and other related issues in adolescence, but sadly they are seldom implemented.”
New users of alcohol often start drinking before they reach age 18, and most people who develop substance use disorders begin using before age 25, Chisholm said.
Dr. Tony Biglan is a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute, and the co-director of the Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium. He has been conducting research on the development and prevention of child and adolescent problem behavior for 30 years, and discussed steps that could help the state move toward a comprehensive system of prevention.
Biglan said the board could consider an initiative that would establish a state-level entity that supports the development of an effective system of prevention in every community. Or it could establish a prevention specialist in each county who has resources and authority to organize community support for effective prevention programs, policies, and practices.
“Developing a pilot project would be a good start for that,” Biglan said. “I don’t know what the possibilities (are) for your group to put funding into this, but you might think about (putting funding) into one of the tribes in Oregon. What we want to do is maybe hire someone in one of the tribes who would be interested in working with us on this. It would be up to the people in the community to decide which things they want to target. It could invest in prevention, family programs, school programs, and comprehensive interventions.”
Board member Lee Eby moderated the meeting, and asked his fellow board members what areas they wanted to focus on in relation to prevention.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for us to hear what local [entities] are planning to do, and incorporate that into this process,” Annaliese Dolph said. “My guess is some communities are planning really big things. This board has an opportunity to be strategic about a continuum of care that includes prevention. I’d encourage working with locals.”
Ann Lininger agreed.
“I think we should make sure we’re working in concert with, and are informed by, hard work underway in the governor’s office, the legislature, and a variety of committees doing work,” Lininger said. “We should also figure out what local governments are doing with their share. We should make sure we know what’s happening in those places. This is a vote for joining forces with, and learning from, things that are being planned by other insightful counterparts.”
Board members agreed that it made sense to wait until the end of the legislative session (to see which behavioral health initiatives will receive funding) to make major decisions on funding allocations.
“A discussion [on] examples of things cities and counties are doing with their funds is crucial, because we don’t want to duplicate work,” John McIlveen said.
They will also consider funding initiatives during their June meeting, which will feature speakers who have lived experiences with substance use disorders and drug overdoses.
“We will also look at criminal justice collaboration,” Eby said. “What can be done within our system?”