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$450 Million Opioid Settlement Doesn't Mean Missouri 'Won The Lottery,' Says SLU Professor

Construction workers have the highest death rate due to opioid overdose of any occupation in the U.S., according to a federal report.
Lorenzo Gritti
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said $450 million settlement will be funneled through four state agencies and go directly to drug treatment, education and intervention programs.

Last week marked a new step in addressing the opioid epidemic, which affects thousands of Missourians a year. Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced a potential settlement in a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of addictive opioid painkillers on Thursday.

Under the settlement, the state would receive $450 million to go toward drug treatment, education and intervention programs.

“The settlement is big — but it's not as if we won the lottery,” St. Louis University sociology professor Elizabeth Chiarello said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“It's more like finding a $10,000 or $15,000 scratcher. So we'll make these dollars stretch the furthest if we double down on the things that we're already doing and do more,” she said. “Don't expect this money to substitute for the money that we're investing in fighting the overdose crisis.”

She explained that the money from the settlement will be paid out over the next 18 or so years. Currently, most funding for overdose prevention and intervention comes through federal grants in two-year blocks.

“And so we never know when that money is going to come in, or if it's going to come in. And it makes it really hard to make long term plans or to build infrastructure. And so that kind of longevity will help, but it's not going to substitute for our existing programs,” Chiarello added.

She penned an op-ed in USA Today last week alongside Harvard professor Allan M. Brandt, which stated: “We can only address this problem by expanding access to harm reduction and evidence-based treatment and by building on existing programs instead of destroying them. Billions of dollars cannot bring back those we have lost, but we can still demand that funds reclaimed from those who brokered in death be used to save lives.”

$450 Million Opioid Settlement Doesn't Mean Missouri 'Won The Lottery,' Says SLU Prof
Listen as sociologist Liz Chiarello explains how Missouri can tackle its opioid addiction problem.

“Harm reduction isn't the end — it's the beginning of a relationship,” she explained to host Sarah Fenske on Monday’s program. Some harm reduction treatments include: medication-based treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine, as well as naloxone (commonly known by its trade name, Narcan, an opioid overdose antidote).

Chiarello would also like to see expanded access to drug test kits that check into whether certain drugs are laced with fentanyl and syringe provision programs that provide sterile syringes to people who inject drugs, as well as cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.

“Our illicit drug supply is basically the Wild West right now. It's rife with fentanyl, which is a drug many times stronger than heroin, and people need to know what's in their drugs,” she said.

Ultimately, Chiarello reiterated the need to go beyond abstinence-only treatments.

“The bottom line is that dead people don't recover. And so if we want to save lives, we have to meet people where they are, and gently pull them into a place that's better for them. But we can't create a hard line around abstinence and expect to keep people alive to help them.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
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