Group makes first funding award to combat opioid epidemic

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky commission assigned to distribute money from a massive settlement with opioid companies has made its first funding award to help combat the state’s opioid epidemic, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Tuesday.

The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission has awarded $10.5 million in funding to a pilot program, Cameron announced. The program will offer behavioral health treatment options for people struggling with substance use disorder as an alternative to incarceration.

“This award of opioid settlement dollars is the first step toward bringing hope and help to Kentuckians struggling with substance use disorder,” Cameron said in a news release.

The commission oversees the state’s portion of funds stemming from nationwide settlements with several companies for their roles in the opioid addiction crisis. Kentucky will receive hundreds of millions of dollars.

Fatal drug overdoses rose nearly 15% in Kentucky in 2021 while surpassing 2,000 deaths, the state reported last year. The increased use of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — was a key contributor in the record death toll in the state, officials said.

State lawmakers have decided that half of Kentucky’s opioid settlement will flow directly to cities and counties for opioid-abuse abatement efforts. The commission will oversee distribution of the state’s half.

Kentucky’s legal fight over its deadly opioid epidemic stretches back to when Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was attorney general and sued a number of opioid companies.

The commission’s initial funding award follows action by Kentucky lawmakers last year to create the behavioral health pilot program. The measure allows people suffering from substance abuse disorder, and who are charged with certain nonviolent drug offenses, to take part in a personalized treatment and recovery plan instead of facing incarceration. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers on Tuesday called it a way to help Kentuckians “break the cycle of addiction.”

Cameron said the pilot program will “begin to treat this challenge as the health problem it is.”

The commission tasked with administering the state’s share of opioid settlement funds has held a series of town hall meetings across the Bluegrass State to hear from people harmed by the opioid epidemic. Cameron announced the commission’s membership last year.

“We are pleased to make this first award and look forward to making many more in the days ahead,” said Bryan Hubbard, the commission’s executive director.

The state’s drug addiction problems have emerged as an issue in this year’s campaign for governor in Kentucky. Republican Kelly Craft, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has made fighting illegal drugs a leading issue in her campaign, running TV ads highlighting the problem.

Cameron and Craft are among a dozen candidates competing for the GOP nomination for governor. Other Republican candidates include state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, state Auditor Mike Harmon and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. Beshear is seeking a second term as governor.

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