The Vineyards’ boards of health are looking to work together to fund a countywide substance use disorder coordinator position, using money made available through federal settlements with several pharmaceutical companies.
Massachusetts is slated to receive more than $900 million to assist in addressing the harms caused by the opioid epidemic. While 60 percent of that money will go to the state’s Opioid Recovery and Remediation Funds, the other 40 percent will be allocated to municipalities throughout the commonwealth.
In the past, the coordinator position has been funded by towns’ free cash; by pooling the opioid abatement funds, which currently amount to over $100,000, Vineyard towns yield the financial burden of paying for the resources with taxpayer dollars. The settlement payouts will continue to be allocated to municipalities throughout the country on an annual basis.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports there were more than 2,300 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in 2022 — an increase of roughly 60 from the prior year, and 9 percent higher than in 2016. Six individuals died on the Vineyard in that year, one of the highest totals over the past 10 years.
According to the guidelines for expenditure of the settlement recoveries laid out by the state, municipalities are to “incorporate community input from those directly affected by the opioid epidemic[,] address service disparities to increase access and equity in treatment and services for OUD, prevention and harm reduction relating to opiates[, and] leverage existing state, city, town, and community opiate use disorder, mental health disorder, and behavioral health disorder programming and services.”
Once the joint funding program receives support from all six towns’ boards of health, the county will return to the town managers for approval to move forward. The Islands’ boards will meet jointly on Jan. 11.