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Barnstable County officials find anomaly in opioid settlement awards

AG Settlement Data.png
Barnstable County

Cape Cod could see around $15 million from national opioid settlements, but local officials are saying one town might not be getting its fair share.

Towns in the region started receiving money from a settlement involving opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson last year. Funds from a second settlement involving Teva, Allergan, CVS, WalMart, and Walgreens are likely coming this summer.

Barnstable County Assistant Administrator Vaira Harik gave an update on the settlements at the March 15 County Commissioners meeting.

Harik said town awards aren’t evenly divided. She noted there is somewhat of a correlation between population size and the monetary amount.

However, Harik pointed out a discrepancy in this trend using data released by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General.

“We’ve identified Yarmouth seems to have been allocated a disproportionately small amount from both settlements one and two,” she said.

Barnstable and Falmouth, the two towns with the biggest populations on the Cape, are each getting over $1 million from each of the settlements.

Yarmouth is only getting around $250,000 from each settlement despite being one of the Cape’s most populated towns.

Harik said settlement attorneys determined awards using an algorithm based on opioid manufacturing data and opioid-related deaths.

The county has made the Town of Yarmouth and the Attorney General’s office aware of the anomaly.

“We’re doing our best to supply information and impetus to trying to rectify this or at least have it looked into further,” Harik said.

Local public health experts are also developing a resource to help Cape Cod towns figure out best uses for the settlement money.

Barnstable County’s Human Services Department is working on a community engagement model to share through the region.

Substance Use Prevention Program Manager Kate Lena said the model will ensure people with lived experience with substance use disorder have a say in decision-making.

“Something that has come up in a lot of the town meetings is, ‘Well, we understand what these funds are, we know what we have to use them to do, but how do we actually get to that final decision on what we’re spending the funds on? How do we get our community members involved in these conversations?’” Lena said.

Settlement money can be spent on prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.

Last month, Harwich said it was planning to use some of its funds for prevention in schools and for hiring a town recovery coach.

A recent report by the county revealed prevention is still the lowest funded sector for substance use in Barnstable County.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.