Local officials prepare for incoming opioid settlement funding
Doña Ana County and the City of Las Cruces are set to receive a windfall of funds as part of national opioid lawsuit settlements from various opioid manufacturers and distributors. To help make recommendations for the use of the funds, the city and county created a joint-advisory council, of which Athena Huckaby of Ideal Option is a sitting member. Huckaby said getting a broad range of voices is the best way to determine how the money is spent.
“I think it’s important to note that I’m a person with lived experience of a substance use problem. But there are also people with living experience that are experiencing that right now. And those people also need to have a seat at the table,” she said. “As a person in recovery, I’m a peer to other people in recovery, but not to other people experiencing active substance use disorder.”
While the advisory council hasn’t formalized any recommendations yet, Huckaby said it’s important to keep an eye on data to determine which programs are most effective for treating addiction.
“Things I'm really interested in are mobile methadone. We could get a van going to outlying areas to dose individuals that we know transportation is a huge barrier,” she said. “I think [we also need] mobile harm reduction, which we used to have in this area. The New Mexico Department of Health and other organizations had mobile vans where they would go out and bring people safer use supplies, and naloxone, and hygiene kits, and do that outreach to the outlying areas of the county. We don't really have anybody doing that work anymore here as opposed to in Northern New Mexico.”
According to Vital Strategies, a public health organization partnering with the city and county, the state of New Mexico is set to receive roughly $1 billion in settlement funds. Of that money, Las Cruces will receive nearly $10 million, and Doña Ana County will receive about $14.4 million.
According to Jamie Michael, Director of the Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Department, the settlement funds must go toward opioid-related expenditures, but that can include support services for those struggling with addiction.
“Opioid use disorders are not necessarily an individual issue where the individual needs to be focused on [direct treatment]. A lot of the consequences and a lot of these supports come within the context of a community,” she said. “And so we look at social drivers of health. We look at the context in which people live. So these resources can absolutely be used to support transportation, or housing, or other support services that will make it easier for individuals to engage in treatment and to change the trajectory of their life.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Mexico ranks sixth in drug overdose mortality in the United States.
Michael said that an important part of asset allocation is getting input from both the advisory panel and community members who have been affected by the opioid crisis.
“The funding itself is part of the the solution, but also this thoughtful process and engaging community members has value as well. And it might allow us to seek other grant funding to support some of the work, it might allow us to allocate other county dollars to support some of the work,” she said. “We have to have a community approach to mitigating the impact. We don't want to be here ten years from now in the same position.”
According to the city, implementation of the plan will begin in June of 2024, and payments are expected to extend as far as 2038. A city spokesperson said the City Council and County Commission will approve expenditures they separately receive.
The Opioid Settlement Advisory Council meetings are open to the public, and are held virtually on the third Tuesday of every month, with the next meeting happening November 21.