SAN ANTONIO – Help may be on the way for those battling opioid addictions in our community and across Texas.
On Thursday, the Texas Attorney General and attorneys representing various Texas counties in a nationwide lawsuit against opioid distributors and manufacturers hashed out how the imminent settlement funds would be split up in the state.
Mikal Watts, attorney for Bexar County, said Texas is the first state in the nation to develop a plan that other states will likely model because it’s nonpartisan.
“Because it's the first such agreement in the United States. Both myself and the folks at the Texas Attorney General's Office expect that this will become a model for other states to use across the United States,” he said.
Once the national settlement is reached, Texas’s portion will be split three ways:
15% will go to the state of Texas to be appropriated by the Legislature;
15% will go to the cities and counties for remediation programs;
70% will go to the newly formed and yet to be named Texas opioids council.
“It's envisioned that these will be medical experts, remediation experts, who will make the decisions about how people can apply from the opioids council for dollars to establish treatment facilities, how best to set up remediation processes where people who are addicted to opioids can go get help,” Watts said.
Watts said he thinks those dollars -- once the settlement is finalized -- will take about a year to trickle down to the communities, but they would be collected over decades.
The opioids council would be made up of three members appointed by the governor and three members appointed by the Texas attorney general. The cities and counties would appoint six members by regional health care partnership regions. The chair would be appointed by the governor and be a non-voting member unless there is a tie.
The council will approve abatement strategies, determine a single point of contact to receive requests for funds and approve expenditures and order the release of funds.
UT Health SA psychiatrist Jennifer Sharpe Potter, who’s researched the use and treatment of opioids in the area extensively, said she’s cautiously optimistic about the plan of action. She hopes the funds don’t get tied up in political limbo and make it down to the communities who need it now. She said she hopes the funds don't go to vanity projects but instead toward proven treatment methods.
“It is exhausting for families trying to find access to this treatment, particularly if they do not have financial resources. It can often be impossible. There are waiting lists,” Potter said. “What these dollars should be used to do is to provide that access.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says he’s not entirely sold on whether this plan is the best for the community. He said he expects to learn more about it during the next Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday. The county is expected to get more than $7 million.
Watts said companies are ready to settle the lawsuits, and the execution of this distribution plan will mean those funds get to the community quickly.