Misuse of opioid settlement funds repeats tobacco-era missteps

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

June 5, 2024

More than 107,000 people died of a drug overdose last year — enough to fill nearly every seat in the nation’s largest college football stadium at the University of Michigan. It’s a number that should make us stop in our tracks and recognize that drug addiction in America is a national emergency.  

This grim statistic should also remind states and municipalities of the responsibility they share as they decide how to spend billions pouring in from legal settlements with pharmaceutical companies — $50 billion over 15 years to be more precise.  …

These funds can make a difference. They can save lives, prevent suffering and begin the process of alleviating the day-to-day trauma experienced by families and communities ravaged by drug addiction. 

For this to be true, however, states will need to allocate the money to attack the very problem that caused the settlements in the first place. …

Some states have used the money to replace existing funding for addiction programs and services, shifting previously dedicated resources to other state and local needs. …

Lessons from the historic master settlement agreement between states and the tobacco industry should loom large.