Will the Opioid Settlement Money be Hijacked Just Like the Tobacco Settlement Dollars?

The state of Connecticut is going to receive $300 million to help combat opioid addiction as part of a national $26 billion settlement with opioid manufacturers. Can our representatives be trusted to use that money for what it’s intended?

by Lou Ann Villani

Near the end of July 2021, it was announced that Connecticut would receive $300 million over 18 years as part of the $26 billion settlement with some of the giant companies that produced and distributed opioids.  State Commissioner of Addictive Services Nancy Navarretta said, “This settlement will provide us with the resources to continue combatting the long-lasting and destructive ripple effects of this epidemic.”  Great news.  About the money Governor Lamont said, “It’s not going to be siphoned off,” Lamont said. “Our job is to make sure this money is properly invested.”

But will this actually happen? It sure didn’t with the much larger tobacco settlement monies that have been sent to our state.

Back in 1998, the big tobacco companies agreed to send $246 billion to states in the first 25 years of an ongoing agreement.  A clause in the agreement said it “will achieve for the Settling States and their citizens significant funding for the advancement of public health, the implementation of important tobacco-related public health measures.”   The money started coming to Connecticut in 2000, starting around $100 million a year.  A study by the Yankee Institute in 2009 reported that a total of $1.3 billion had been sent to Connecticut as of that year. 

That should have been great news, but by and large the legislature and the governors didn’t spend the money on tobacco prevention or remediation.  $1.1 billion of that money was just put into the General Fund.  That means it was spent on whatever the politicians wanted.

A few years earlier, in 2006, I had written an opinion piece for the New Haven Register.  In it I wrote, “The Center for Disease Control recommends that a state the size of Connecticut spend at least $21 million a year on tobacco prevention programs.  However, the amount of money being spent by our legislature for prevention programs was small to start with and grows less and less each year.  This year it was just $40,000.  Last December Attorney General Blumenthal said that CT ranks virtually last in the amount it spends to discourage children from smoking.”

I had hoped to create a storm of public anger, but in the 15 years since 2006 Connecticut spending with the tobacco nest egg has only gotten worse.  There’s a great site, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.  It produced this color-coded map to show by what percentage states are meeting CDC recommendations on tobacco education spending.  Seven states are over 50%.  Eight states spend between 25% and 49%.  Connecticut and one other state are colored in red. They spend NOTHING at all on tobacco prevention.  That number has been zero for the last five years.

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Have you ever seen TV ads paid for by the state of Connecticut warning about smoking or praising the good life of young people who don’t smoke?  Have your kids brought home materials from school against smoking paid for by our state government? I haven’t.  What about vaping? The Food and Drug Administration calls it an epidemic. The FDA says, “disposable e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 2.4 percent in 2019 to 26.5 percent in 2020.” The American Medical Association reports on 1,000 lung injuries from e-cigarettes.  So when has the state of Connecticut used its ample tobacco settlement funds to warn young people of the dangers of smoking?  Never, as far as I know.

My questions.   The intent of the settlement is to help fight addiction, but reading details of the national settlement it appears that states are only required to publicly report on whatever they spend of this money that doesn’t go to remediation.  So they report it, big deal.  I don’t see any penalty if they spend the money on roads, state police, raises for elected officials, or anything else. 

If the state is going to send $45 million to Connecticut’s towns and cities will they be required to spend the money on opioid remediation or will it just be an open-ended handout?

We can’t trust the politicians with the opioid money.  There should be an oversight board in charge of the use of the funds led by health professionals and members of families harmed by opioid addiction.   And we shouldn’t give up on the tobacco money.  There should be a special commission set up to study the negligence of the politicians in refusing to spend money on tobacco education.  It should name names and recommend how tobacco money should be spent.

LouAnn Villani is a retired nurse living in Danbury.  Her mother, a long-time smoker, died of lung cancer in 1999.

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