$1.5 million from Opioid settlement, federal funds flowing into Page to combat substance abuse

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~ PVN staff report

LURAY — Two big announcements in September may provide additional funding needed to help address Page County’s ongoing battle with substance abuse. From dominating monthly indictments in circuit court to additional pressure on the county jail and support services, the ripple effects of substance abuse are felt throughout the community.

One week ago, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia announced $2 million in federal funding for the Virginia Rural Health Association in Luray and the Bay Rivers Telehealth Alliance in Tappahannock to expand access to substance use disorder treatment and prevention services.

“The opioid and substance use crisis continues to have a devastating impact on Virginians across the Commonwealth, particularly in communities with limited access to treatment and preventive services,” reads a statement from the senators. “Every Virginian struggling with a substance use disorder deserves critical care and support, and we’re glad this funding will provide greater resources for them.”

The funding for Luray was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA)Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, and the funding for Tappahannock was awarded through HRSA’s Medication Assisted Treatment Access Program

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • $1 million for the Virginia Rural Health Association to expand treatment and prevention services for substance use disorders;
  • $1 million for the Bay Rivers Telehealth Alliance to establish a new medication assisted treatment access point that will provide medications and support services for individuals with opioid and substance use disorders.

Warner and Kaine have long worked to address the opioid and substance use crisis that has impacted communities across Virginia. Last month, Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for additional assistance to combat drug trafficking in the Appalachian region.

In March 2021, Warner and Kaine voted to pass the American Rescue Plan, which provided Virginia with nearly $70 million in funding to bolster mental health and substance abuse programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, Kaine played a critical role in the passage of a comprehensive bill to better address opioid and substance use disorder treatment and prevention. Kaine recently held a roundtable with community leaders in Harrisonburg about the need to provide more support and treatment for Virginians with substance use disorders.

During its Sept. 19 meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors heard a report from Finance Director Tyler Olsen regarding the National Opioid Settlement. From July 2022 to July 2038, the county anticipates receiving between $671,824.08 and $835,683.61.

“The final amount will depend on how much of the private legal counsel fees are paid by the national fee fund,” Olsen reported. “Nearly a quarter of the total amount will be received by the end of calendar year 2022.”

Olsen said the County will receive the remaining funds in smaller amounts of $30,000 to $40,000 annually, from 2023 to 2038.

The settlement resolves litigation brought by states and local political subdivisions against the three largest pharmaceutical distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, and manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company Johnson & Johnson. The funds are to be used for the abatement of the opioid epidemic.

Supervisors now have a decision to make regarding how they will use these funds to strategically respond to the opioid crisis. At least 85 percent of the funds must be spent on opioid abatement. Approved uses include:

  • Funding programs to treat opioid use disorder (OUD);
  • Supporting people in treatment and recovery;
  • Addressing the needs of pregnant or parenting women with OUD;
  • Preventing the misuse and over-prescribing of opioids;
  • Providing education and training to first responders.

Olsen said the settlement funds could be used by various departments, such as the Drug Treatment Court, Social Services, Fire-EMS, and the Sheriff’s Office; however, they cannot be used to “supplant funding for an existing program.”

Currently, the State entity that oversees the use of these funds, the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority, has not stipulated a certain date by which these funds need to be spent. Consequently, the County can hold on to this money and disburse it as needed.

Olsen recommended not spending the funds until the Drug Treatment Court’s future funding source is determined. Currently, the Drug Treatment Court is funded with a three-year federal grant ending in September 2023. The Court will apply for a fourth-year extension, which will use the savings from the past three years. It is the Court Coordinator’s intention to apply for additional grants beyond the fourth-year extension.

If the extension or grants are not awarded, supervisors could consider using these funds to temporarily fund the Court while it solidifies a long-term funding strategy, Olsen said. Since the Court helps individuals with OUD, the Court’s expenses would be an eligible use of these funds.

Information on the Opioid Settlement was taken directly from a Sept. 19 report from the Page County Finance Director to the Page County Board of Supervisors, while information on federal funding was taken from a Sept. 26 press release from Senators Kaine and Warner.



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