MEMPHIS, TENN. — Residents are getting a better idea of how Shelby County leaders plan on addressing the opioid epidemic and what’s being done with millions of dollars from a lawsuit settlement.
The first of several settlements from a statewide lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and three major pharmaceutical distributors is coming to Shelby County. It’s worth $20 million.
“I’m excited that we received the $20 million settlement, but at the same time it certainly does not pay for the magnitude of deaths,” Shelby County Commissioner Mark Billingsley said.
Data from the Shelby County health department shows there have been nearly 724 overdoes this year and 42 of those were just last week.
Walter Williams closely monitors these numbers as the Executive Director of First Step Recovery Centers.
“Anything that we can do bring those numbers down, the numbers did people using, the number of people overdosing in in favor of it,” Williams said.
This is why Williams went before the Shelby County Commission this morning to discuss the impact opioids are having and why the funds are needed in the community.
“We need a little extra money to do stuff. I’m not gonna get a new car, I’m not gonna get a raise. The other directors and people aren’t gonna do that. We need to keep our treatment centers going,” Williams said.
The initial $20 million is expected to come in a few months. Leading up to that, Commissioner Billingsley believes it’s important to ensure that money reaches those who need it.
“I just want to see a strategic plan that we can implement, and you and I can see friends and neighbors that say this was a good program that made it to the people in our district that are suffering,” Billingsley said.
Shelby County’s attorney said the state is putting together an oversight committee to help regulate how the funds are spent, but the county will have some flexibility. As plans are finalized, leaders believe it’s important not to forget those impacted by these decisions.
“We really need to look at this seriously because like Commissioner Billingsley said, this money will be gone in a blink. We have too many people in this community who need services,” Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said.
In total, the state of Tennessee will receive $613 million over 18 years.