BOSTON (State House News Service) — Massachusetts cities and towns will split more than $210 million in money paid by opioid manufacturers and distributors, while state government will get another $310 million to invest in ongoing efforts to rein in the addiction and overdose epidemic, officials announced Tuesday.
Nearly nine months after Attorney General Maura Healey and 13 of her peers in other states reached a $26 billion agreement with several pharmaceutical industry power players, Healey said Massachusetts would receive the maximum allowable $525 million under the terms of the settlement.
Unlike other states, cities and towns in Massachusetts will receive a larger share of the money, all of which will go toward overdose prevention, harm reduction, and addiction treatment to abate a devastating crisis that has killed more than 21,000 Massachusetts residents since 2000.
Healey, who on Tuesday voiced support for opening sites where individuals could use drugs under medical supervision to prevent deadly overdoses, said the funding is not enough to undo the damage wrought by the opioid epidemic but still represents a "huge win for people in Massachusetts."
"So many families across so many realms and walks of life, every city and town in this state, have had visited upon them devastating loss, devastating crisis, devastating trauma," Healey said at a press conference at Boston City Hall, flanked by more than half a dozen municipal leaders as well as affected family members. "Today marks another point in that journey together."
Healey said the first two settlement payments will reach Massachusetts this spring and summer, followed by yearly installments from 2023 to 2038.
Municipalities are set to receive varying amounts of funding, according to projections published by Healey's office. The tiny Berkshire County town of Alford, for example, is in line to get just $1,566 over the next 16 years, while Boston expects more than $22 million over the same span.
Healey's office said 338 local governments have signed on to access the funding, representing a large enough body of support for Massachusetts to max out available abatement dollars. Other cities and towns can still join, the AG's office said.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the Bay State's cities and towns will receive a larger windfall than those in other states that are part of the settlement.
The default municipal share for settlement funds had been 15 percent, Fuller said, but Massachusetts cities and towns will split a 40 percent share of the total state allotment.
"Help is on the way," Fuller said. "These funds give hope to thousands and thousands of people. They're going to fortify the community-based programs that will meet people where they are. These funds will save lives."
The money flowing to Massachusetts represents the Bay State's share of a 2021 settlement with Johnson & Johnson and with three of the country's largest opioid distributors: Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen.
Attorneys general had alleged that the distributors steered suspicious orders to states and that J&J misled doctors and patients about the addictiveness of opioids.
Key decisions about how to use the more than half-billion dollars in settlement money, including whether any of it will go toward controversial ideas such as reopening an addiction recovery campus on Long Island, have yet to be made.
Officials were light on specifics Tuesday when pressed about how the funding could address the intertwined addiction and homelessness issues around the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area in Boston, often referred to as "Mass. and Cass," or whether it was worth investing in a Long Island reopening.
"I don't view a $200 million bridge as a solution to a problem, and there's probably millions more needed of work on the island itself," Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, who for years has been fighting efforts to rebuild a bridge to the island, told reporters after Tuesday's event. "If Long Island is determined the place to use, it'd certainly be more efficient and cost-effective to do it by ferry."
Asked if safe injection sites should feature in the regional response to the opioid crisis, Healey -- who is running for governor -- said she backs the controversial idea that for years has been stalled by threats of federal prosecution and opposition from Gov. Charlie Baker.
"I certainly have supported efforts at harm reduction. Safe injection sites are part of that," Healey said. "I think it's up to communities and municipalities to work through some of that and what makes sense."
"From the beginning, we have all recognized this as the public health crisis that it is, and it necessitates innovative thinking, innovative approaches, and certainly, we should do everything we can to save lives," she added.
Cheryl Juaire, a Marlborough resident who lost two sons to opioid overdoses, said she wants officials to direct a "significant amount" of money to on-the-ground services such as harm reduction and recovery organizations.
"These services, when working hand-in-hand with medication assisted treatment and other forms of opioid abatement, can and do make a tremendous amount of difference," Juaire said.
Healey and more than a dozen other state law enforcement officials also agreed in July 2021 to resolve other lawsuits against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, a deal that requires extensive public disclosure of documents, banned the controlling Sackler family from the opioid industry, and required the family to pay more than $4.3 billion.
Massachusetts expects to receive $90 million from the Purdue payment plus additional compensation for families and victims, Healey said last year when announcing the deal, which came after she turned down earlier offers.
"Of course it's not enough," Healey said Tuesday of the $525 million headed to Massachusetts. "It's not enough to deal with the systemic issues that got us here in the first place. It is significant and it is what we could get under the law by going after these four companies, and there are two or three more in the hopper."
Nearly 22,000 Bay Staters died of opioid-related overdoses between 2000 and 2020, according to Department of Public Health data. With the use of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl increasing, the crisis has become even more pronounced in recent years. DPH recorded at least 2,000 overdose deaths each year between 2016 and 2020.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city placed more than 2,600 people into addiction treatment in 2021, adding that the settlement funding will "help provide the next step in recovery from these crises."
"We're looking to expand access to services to truly meet the needs of our residents and continue breaking down the stigma around mental health and recovery, reinforcing that our need for services is not a testament to our humanity but the true testament is how we respond to that need," Wu said.
Written by Chris Lisinski/SHNS.
WBZ's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports.