The state is weighing its options on how to hold a Stamford-based pharmaceutical company accountable for its role in the nation’s opioid crisis. But if money ever does come to Connecticut from a potential settlement with Purdue Pharma, addiction recovery advocates have plenty of ideas on how it could be spent.
The Sackler Family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, have tentatively agreed to settle about half of the lawsuits brought against the company by thousands of municipalities and states over the marketing of Oxycontin.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Wednesday that so far, he hasn’t liked any offer he’s seen and that he’s still interested in “aggressively pursuing” the state’s lawsuit.
At an opioid harm reduction conference in Hartford Thursday, people dedicated to addiction treatment had some ideas about how any money generated from Purdue could best be used.
Dr. Charles Atkins said he wants to see it go to those in the community who were hurt the most by the aggressive marketing tactics and massive over-prescription that’s said to have started an epidemic.
“These medications were widely promoted as having really no-risk or little risk and what we now know, and what was really known by the drug companies, is that they’re quite dangerous.” said Atkins, the chief medical officer of Community Mental Health Affiliates, an agency in New Britain that works with people with serious mental health and substance abuse issues.
In recent years, the opioid crisis has generated around 1,000 overdose deaths in the state each year.
"It’s making sure folks have access to overdose reversal for people who are currently struggling with their current dependence on opioids," said Atkins, of the priorities he sees. "It’s going to be ready access to treatment. It’s going to be looking at getting away from what insurance people have in terms of whether or not they can afford a medication or not, and making needed medications for the treatment of opioid use disorders pretty much available to anyone who needs it.”
There's already a model elsewhere in the country for what an opioid settlement could look like. The state of Oklahoma reportedly got $270 million from Purdue Pharma in an agreement made earlier this year. Some of that money will fund an addiction treatment center.
Miriam Delphin-Rittmon -- the commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services – told Connecticut Public Radio that while she’s paying attention to what’s happening with Purdue Pharma, the settlement talk isn’t for her.
“Where a lot of my work right now is focused is helping people know where treatment services and supports are, helping people to have access to Narcan, helping people have hope, and to know that recovery real and recovery is possible," said Delphin-Rittmon.
Mark Jenkins is the executive director of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition. His organisation gets out into the street to help users, with programs including syringe exchanges and handing out overdose kits.
“Pie in the sky?" said Jenkins, "I’d love to see a fleet of mobile vehicles where we can really go into the trenches and engage people.”
He believes anything coming back to the people affected by the opioid crisis will be good. But he said, ultimately in any agreement with the Sacklers – particularly in a settlement where they have a shot at protecting their money -- he believes they will win.