Hamilton County Commission OKs $140,000 in recurring opioid settlement funds for data analyst

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Tommy Farmer speaks Dec. 12 at the Hamilton County Health Department. He is standing in front of a chart showing the recent increase in drug overdose deaths in Tennessee. The Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday approved hiring a data analyst to study the local effects of the opioid epidemic.

Officials hope a new employee focused on data analysis will help Hamilton County receive additional money to address the local effects of the opioid epidemic and identify the best uses for future settlement funds.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners approved an annual allocation of $140,000 in opioid settlement money that would support the position for 18 years.

According to the resolution approved Wednesday, the county will receive $140,000 for four years starting in fiscal year 2024. That amount will increase to $250,000 per year starting in fiscal year 2028 and lasting through 2038.

In 2021, 176 people died of overdoses in Hamilton County with 125 of those deaths being related to fentanyl, according to data from the county Health Department.

Funding for the position will not come out of a $1.5 million allotment the County Commission has already accepted from the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council, a panel established to determine the how to spend money the state has received from lawsuits related to the opioid crisis.

The county must spend that $1.5 million on opioid abatement and remediation. It was part of a larger pot of $31.4 million that the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council recently distributed to county governments across the state using settlement proceeds.

David Roddy, a special adviser for the Hamilton County mayor's office, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday that he expects the new position will also help the county be competitive for state or federal grants.

"Some of them can get a little deep in what they require relative to data," Roddy said in an interview. "This person will be the best one to understand how to pull those numbers, compile them in the best way to not only stay in compliance with the grant but to make them in a format that our community, our commission all understand exactly what we're doing, what we're working on and how those funds are going to be used."

Roddy is the former chief of the Chattanooga Police Department.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp speaks at the Hamilton County Health Department on Dec. 12. The County Commission on Wednesday approved Wamp's request to hire a data analyst to study the local effects of the opioid epidemic.

According to a news release from the mayor's office, the data analyst will work under the direction of the deputy director of intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Economic and Community Development. The county will list the job opening March 20.

The mayor's office said the analyst will be responsible for conducting research, analyzing data on opioid-related trends, identifying areas of need in the community and helping the county coordinate with partners.

"The opioid epidemic has impacted families in every part of the county," Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp said in the news release. "Today, we are taking an important first step in addressing the opioid crisis in our community. I am grateful the County Commission approved the funding for this position so future settlement money can be allocated in the most effective way possible."

Hamilton County commissioners also approved a resolution Wednesday that would set the stage for the receipt of additional opioid settlement money.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said in an interview that the county was notified last week that it was eligible for up to $20 million and the commission had a deadline of mid-April to approve the resolution. Taylor said the county does not yet know when it would receive the money or if there are any restrictions on its use.

According to state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti's office, Tennessee has joined a coalition of states and local political subdivisions in reaching settlements with two manufacturers -- Allergan and Teva -- and three pharmacy chains -- CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. If fully adopted, Tennessee and its local governments could receive maximum payments totaling more than $490 million, which would be part of a second wave of settlement money accumulated by the state.

The state is already expecting to collect approximately $600 million over 18 years through nationwide settlements with three opioid distributors and one manufacturer, Janssen.

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