Hamilton County expects to receive $1.5 million for opioid abatement, remediation

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Tommy Farmer speaks Dec. 12 at the Hamilton County Health Department in front of a chart showing the recent increase in drug overdose deaths in Tennessee.

In fiscal year 2023, Hamilton County expects to receive $1.5 million from the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council, a panel established to determine how to spend money the state has received from lawsuits related to the opioid crisis.

Hamilton County commissioners will decide Feb. 15 whether to accept that funding, which must be spent for opioid abatement and remediation purposes and would require semiannual reporting by the county.

"This is a part of monies that are flowing from settlements with big drug companies," Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp told commissioners during a 15-minute agenda review meeting Wednesday. "There are pretty tight restrictions on these monies, so we're continuing to evaluate ... what the uses of this money will be, and we'll revisit that during budget season."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County legislative priorities include overdose deaths, growing Hispanic student population)

Counties can spend the money on a number of different uses identified by the Opioid Abatement Council, according to a breakdown provided by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. That includes training for first responders, school staff and community groups on how to use naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Counties can also use the dollars to expand treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome, enhance distribution of medication-assisted treatments for people who are uninsured or lack coverage for that service, or increase funding to jails to treat inmates with opioid use disorders.

(READ MORE: Opioid settlement funds soon up for grabs in Tennessee. Here's what you need to know.)

Wamp said in an interview Wednesday that county officials do expect to receive more funding in the future and are continuing to evaluate the conditions associated with those dollars.

"Ultimately, I want to be very intentional in investing our monies directly to impact the crisis at hand," Wamp said. "Even through budget season, this will be one of our office's major priorities because it's a silent killer. In the shadows of the pandemic, you had crisis proportions -- really unprecedented in American history -- and Hamilton County is deeply affected."

The Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation in May 2021 creating the Opioid Abatement Council, which oversees a designated repository of funding received by the state through opioid-related claims.

According to data compiled by the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 3,814 fatal drug overdose deaths in the state in 2021. Hamilton County accounted for 171 of those deaths.

Hamilton County Administrator of Finance Lee Brouner said in an email Wednesday that the county has to-date received $813,766 in proceeds from opioid settlements. The county received those in three installments in September and November of 2022.

While the $1.5 million commissioners will consider next week contains several restrictions, Brouner said, the county can use the allotment of $813,766 to fund any governmental purpose.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

  photo  AP Photo/Toby Talbot / OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo in 2013 at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt.