Settlement money could assist communities in fighting the opioid epidemic


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Madison Steigerwald, Staff Writer

The Ottawa County lawsuit that prevented the distribution of more than $80 million in opioid settlement funds to municipalities across Michigan was dismissed by a Wayne County Circuit Court Judge on Jan. 13. 

Ottawa County is set to receive $2.6 million from the settlement, sparking a turbulent response from county commissioners last year. The county filed a lawsuit contesting how the money will be distributed by local governments and the formula used for distributing the funds among municipalities. Now, the money is able to be dispersed to the county. 

The money has begun flowing into local governments across the state, providing close to $400 million across 269 counties, cities and townships. The purpose is to fund opioid prevention and treatment efforts, including medicated-assisted treatment, Narcan distribution and Syringe Exchange Programs. 

According to coverage from Michigan Radio, an attorney representing Ottawa County said many local governments don’t have the resources necessary to provide opioid prevention and treatment programs. He said he was concerned about how the settlement was organized, and that it was made “without any consideration whatsoever for the limitation of the public health system.”

The formula used for distributing these funds is based off of 2018 data, which raised alarm for Ottawa County officials who felt that the monetary support they were receiving wasn’t proportional to the exponential population growth the county saw between 2010 and 2020.

The money was expected to be distributed to local governments at the end of last year, however the lawsuit from Ottawa county impacted when all counties would receive money. 

During the settlement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel expressed her frustration to Facebook. 

“Ottawa County is the only local unit of government in America to contest their allocation of the national multi-billion dollar opioid settlement,” Nessel wrote in a Facebook Post. “Michigan is the only state in America not to have received their funding for local governments as a result of Ottawa County’s decision to file suit on this matter (even though they did not participate in any litigation regarding this matter while the settlement was being negotiated). What happens in Ottawa County does not necessarily stay in Ottawa County. Ottawa ‘impacts’ all of Michigan.”

Despite concerns, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard dismissed the Ottawa County lawsuit and distribution of settlement funds began at the beginning of January 2023. 

In Michigan, the opioid epidemic began with the misuse and overprescribing of pain medication. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this epidemic eventually morphed into a heroin crisis, which is now fueled by fentanyl, the ultra-potent synthetic opioid responsible for more than 3,000 deaths in Michigan during 2021.

While some students at Grand Valley State University may not know the scale of the threat the opioid crisis poses to any community, Masters of Social Work Student and Outpatient Case Manager, Haley Perry, said the risk for addiction and overdose can exist anywhere, especially in environments with impressionable minds and easy accessibility to drugs.

Perry said the increase in fentanyl use and overdoses seen across the country and in West Michigan pose an imminent threat to college students who want to experiment with drugs. She stressed the importance of making healthy and safe decisions regarding drugs, because one bad decision could cost a life. 

Students at GVSU educate themselves on the risks of drug use and take the steps necessary to try to protect themselves from addiction. Students can contact GVSU’s Alcohol and Other Drug Services (AOD) for more information regarding support, outreach and recovery programs.