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Police Departments Allocate Opioid Settlement Funds for Cars and Overtime

Payments from the recent court settlements in the ongoing litigation against the pharmaceutical industry regarding the opioid crisis have begun to be distributed to states and communities. These settlements could amount to more than $50 billion. However, the allocation of these funds has sparked debates on how they should be used, particularly when it comes to the involvement of law enforcement. While states and local governments are designating money for overdose reversal drugs and addiction treatment, law enforcement departments are also receiving funds for policing resources such as new cruisers, overtime pay for narcotics investigators, phone-hacking equipment, body scanners, and restraint devices.

The allocation of these funds to law enforcement has raised concerns and criticisms. Some are skeptical about using the opioid money for policing purposes, questioning the wide interpretation of “law enforcement expenditures related to the opioid epidemic.” On the other hand, there is public sentiment in favor of dedicating funds to rid the streets of drug dealers.

A group of addiction medicine specialists, legal aid groups, and street outreach organizations has released a list of suggested priorities for the funds. They recommend using the funds for housing for people in recovery, expanding access to syringe exchange programs, and medication-assisted treatment. However, they explicitly stated that no funds should be spent on law enforcement personnel, overtime, or equipment.

The allocation of the opioid settlement funds is also raising questions about transparency and learning from past mistakes, such as the Big Tobacco settlement. State governments used most of the tobacco settlement money for purposes other than addressing nicotine-related problems. To avoid repeating these mistakes, local governments are working on committees to determine how the funds should be allocated. While law enforcement personnel are involved in these committees, they make up less than a fifth of the members.

The allocation of funds varies across different jurisdictions. Some counties are using the funds to hire more detectives to tackle drug-related cases, while others are focusing on post-recovery education and job-training programs. Public health officials and addiction treatment specialists, however, have expressed concerns about grants for faith-based rehab programs that prohibit certain medications used to treat addiction.

One challenge in the allocation of funds is ensuring accountability. While the legal agreements surrounding the settlements mention the enforcement of spending guidelines, the responsibility falls on the political process rather than the courts. This raises questions about who will oversee the appropriate use of the funds and what consequences await those who deviate from the agreed-upon guidelines.

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