This is one in an ongoing New Bedford Light series examining the far-reaching impacts of addiction.

NEW BEDFORD — If you had a million dollars to spend on the opioid crisis, what would you do with it?

For New Bedford, that’s not a hypothetical question. The city has received $1.2 million from a legal settlement with Johnson & Johnson and opioid distributors. More payments will bring an additional $3.7 million by 2038.

The money comes from a national lawsuit over the pharmaceutical companies’ role in exacerbating the opioid crisis. Massachusetts and most other states signed on as plaintiffs, and now local governments across the country are receiving their share of the $26 billion agreement in regular payments that started last summer. The money from these settlements is meant to mitigate the damage the crisis has caused — the city can spend it on programs to prevent, treat, and reduce the harms of addiction.

New Bedford has been hit hard by the crisis. At least 541 people have died of overdoses in the city since 2015, a recent Light investigation found. Roughly one in eight of the city’s residents have sought treatment for an addiction since 2012. 

The city expects even more payments in the years ahead from settlements with other pharmaceutical companies, including pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. But city officials aren’t yet sure how large those payments will be.

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Discussions on how to spend the city’s share of the money are still in early stages, said New Bedford Health Director Stephanie Sloan.

“We’re trying to get as much information as we can so that we can be strategic and use the money the best way that we can,” she said.

Sloan said the city will work with the Greater New Bedford Opioid Task Force, an organization of local government agencies and addiction treatment providers, to make those decisions. She’s also consulting with other cities and towns across the state on how they plan to use their funds. Many of those communities aren’t rushing to spend the money immediately because they want to be sure they’re spending it as effectively as possible, she said.

Some of the funding could go toward the task force’s existing programs, like post-overdose outreach and case management for low-level drug offenders. But Sloan wants the city to take stock of the resources it has and identify gaps or areas where the system isn’t working.

“We might get the best bang for our buck by enhancing programs that exist, but at the same time, doing some innovation or thinking about things outside of the box I think is really important,” she said.

One area she thinks might need more attention is what treatment providers call the “social determinants of health” — non-medical factors like poverty and homelessness. Treatment providers say it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover from substance use disorder without a stable living situation, and Sloan agrees that programs to help people meet their basic needs could make it easier for them to focus on recovery.

Carl Alves, CEO of the nonprofit Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, wants to see the money put toward a community-wide dialogue to come up with the best strategies for addressing the opioid crisis. “There is value in spending the time to really have conversations to listen to one another,” he says. Credit: Joanna McQuillan Weeks / The New Bedford Light

Carl Alves, CEO of the nonprofit Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, wants to see the money put toward a community-wide dialogue to come up with the best strategies for addressing the opioid crisis.

“There is value in spending the time to really have conversations to listen to one another,” he said.

Alves noted that the settlement payments are a relatively small slice of the addiction-related funding already flowing into the city — organizations offering addiction treatment services in New Bedford receive millions of dollars each year in federal grants.

But the grants only target specific organizations and programs, which means services get “siloed” among different treatment providers, Alves said. He thinks the settlement funds could help bridge those divides and make room for innovation.

“What we don’t have funding for is this planning and strategy process,” he said. “They’ll pay for a treatment bed, they’ll pay for an outpatient counseling visit, but nobody is paying for a coordinated community-wide approach.”

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That approach should include some experimentation with different programs and strategies to see what works, he said. He characterized the settlement funding as a potential source of “venture capital” for local opioid remediation.

One approach Alves wants the city to try is more data collection on overdoses and treatment. Setting up a data dashboard might help them spot trends and respond, he said.

Sloane agrees that the funds present a unique opportunity for New Bedford to step back and craft a broader strategy.

“We have great partners who work really well together,” she said. “The more seamless we can make that coordination, the better care we can provide to people.”

Sloan said she hopes to see the beginnings of a plan around the start of next year.

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  1. For years New Bedford and other communities in the USA have treated addiction as a,crime and not an illness This has stigmatized people who needed medical treatment as criminals and not victims of poverty and homelessness .Until we reverse this,archaic way of thinking we,will not eliminate opoid or any other kind of drug addiction.Stable housing with food security combined w counseling is a first step to dealing w the opoid crisis,which has claimed far too many lives many of them young. I applaud Ms,Sloan and the city’s approach

  2. Round up all the cases and find out each and everyone’s individual personal problem, providing them the path they need to be a positive in our society. Some people are beyond help, in those cases, tough love. Beyond that, put them in an isolated place among similar friends with the next step, institutionalization! The rest of the money should go to the public safety departments that have dealt with the problem on a percentage basis of contribution.

  3. All these people just care about themselves. If they get 1milion$ they’ll spend 900,000$ of salaries for people “running” these “programs” instead of giving the money to those who were actually affected. They’ll say they can’t give those addicted any money because they’ll use it on Dr#&s.. but in reality it’s just another way for those in power to use others issues to make more money.
    Ever think that some people just need to be able to see a future for themselves and they’d want to live again?
    No these people try and say sweet words but in reality all they want is to find innovative ways to get paid.
    Maybe pay for them to go back to school for 2years with living, support, and supplies all included. Most of these people have spent most of their lives not hitting milestones but in life. They need to be re taught and if people aren’t willing to go all the way with this the they shouldn’t bother pretending.
    It’s like when people are going through rough times but the government won’t help you unless you are already rock bottom. They want you to lose everything before they step in to help.
    Maybe be pro active instead of reactive and don’t require people to have to lose all they have before they can get help.
    If they really want to show they care then maybe don’t give a salary to the politicians that make back room deals or put sneaky language in these bills and grants that allows them to funnel off money to their “trusted” friends instead of to those people it’s meant to help or make the language so hard to understand that barely anyone can navigate through it without having to pay someone to help them so it (not like someone in crisis even has that luxury.
    It just seems like another way to milk the vulnerable people in the area.
    Last time they got money for “the opioid crisis” all they did was open up new places to send people when they got sectioned 35 put on them but no real long term health. Ask yourself… do you really care or do you just want to give the appearance of caring. Out of sight out of mind until it hits home.
    It’s sad people have no where to really turn and that they make getting “help” so hard that unless you can hire someone to help you get a grant you’re most likely not going to even understand how to navigate your way around all the red tape and bureaucracy to even get to the tiny bit of help
    That is leftover after everyone takes a cut. Idk maybe I’m being cynical but after years of watching nothing but lies come out of people that say they want to help I have my doubts.
    Maybe more transparency on where the money actually goes would help , but telling people where the money actually goes? Who wants that? Not those that gets those allocated .
    Laterrz. Do better, raise the bar..

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