How will Kentucky’s biggest city spend opioid settlement money?
Harm reduction tops list of goals
Connie Mendel, interim chief health strategist at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, spoke at the announcement Thursday. (Kentucky Lantern Photo by Sarah Ladd).
LOUISVILLE – Kentucky’s most populous city plans to spend $57 million from opioid settlements on harm reduction services and other outreaches, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced Thursday at City Hall.
Jefferson County will receive more than $57 million in total over the course of 18 years, with the first payment of $7 million expected later this year, Greenberg said.
That money will come from CVS, Walgreens, Teva and Allergan following national settlements last month with “companies that manufactured and distributed opioid painkillers and helped fuel the opioid epidemic,” the city said in a statement.
These settlement dollars are on top of Kentucky’s state settlements, which may funnel more money into Louisville Metro. The state is required to allocate half of that to local governments across the state.
“This is not federal funding; this is not state funding; this is not taxpayer money. This is money that companies agreed to pay after it became clear that they have failed to monitor and report suspicious shipments of opioids,” Greenberg said. “They’ve profited off the pain, misery and suffering.”
Although Kentucky saw its first decline in fatal overdoses since 2018 last year, 2,135 Kentuckians died from an overdose in 2022. Most of those deaths were from opioids, especially fentanyl, the Lantern previously reported. Of the deaths, 505 were in Louisville, the mayor said. That’s more than one per day.
Pharmaceutical companies “saw that these pills were making a lot of money, while also destroying lives and families and communities,” Greenberg said. “And they kept pushing them anyway. It’s a business conducted without a conscience, and people in our city, in every ZIP code of our city, in every neighborhood, and all across America, were hurt by this.”
While overall opioid deaths decreased last year in the state, overdose deaths among Black Kentuckians increased, according to Connie Mendel, interim chief health strategist at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
“We’re in a crisis,” Shreeta Waldon, the executive director of the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition, said. “We don’t get to celebrate until we can lower the numbers for everyone, not just for one community.”
Meanwhile, the health department and others said they would continue harm reduction services, such as HIV screening, mental health services, free narcan, fentanyl strips, safe syringe disposal, referrals to treatment and more.
“We know that every overdose death can be prevented,” Mendel said. “Even one is too much, but the decline gives us hope that we can prevent more — and that the harm reduction strategies being used across Louisville and the state are working.”
Those services have reached more than 27,000 people since 2015, Mendel said, and reversed around 11,000 overdoses, according to self reporting.
Among those helped was Ryan Jacobs, who spoke Thursday in Louisville. From Salem, Indiana, he said he was a “shy kid” who dreamed of being president.
“Back then, especially, I lived in a world where being gay wasn’t a norm,” he said. “In my media, there was never any representation of me. And that caused me to live my life in the shadows.”
This led him to drugs, he said, which became a “crutch.” Jacobs, who now works with UK Target 4, said “I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help.”
Finally, he went to the Louisville health department to get help.
“I cannot begin to tell you how much strength it took for me to build up to be able to walk through those doors,” he said. “But looking back on it now, I can tell you that’s what saved my life.”
He didn’t feel stigmatized or judged, he said. “I was treated with dignity and respect.”
Through his work now, he helps other people access the services that helped him.
“My hope is that we can continue this work,” Jacobs said. “I’m a testament to what these organizations do.”
By the numbers
Sarah Martin, civil division director with the Jefferson County attorney’s office, said this first payment will be among the largest. Payments will decrease as time goes on.
The first plans for the $7 million are:
- $1.5 million will go to community partners for outreach, narcan distribution, HIV and hepatitis C screening, mental health services and more. They include Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition, University of Kentucky’s Target 4 REgion 5, Feed Louisville, and the health department.
- $250,000 will establish an opioid settlement distribution advisory board, which the mayor will appoint. It will include people with previous substance abuse disorders, health care experts, and people working in recovery and treatment spaces. Greenberg hopes this board can be up and running in the next two months, he said.
- $5.3 million will go to winning proposals. People can apply this fall to address the opioid epidemic through evidence-based and forward-thinking plans. An announcement on this application process should come in September. The advisory board will review proposals and make decisions. Metro Council will still need to approve the spending.
The $57 million cannot fully solve the opioid crisis, Mendel said. But “it can make an impact.”
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