Despite an overdose crisis, millions in opioid settlement funds in Hawaii go unspent
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the middle of an opioid addiction and overdose crisis, millions of dollars from drug company settlements are going unspent in Hawaii.
Lawmakers and providers say government bureaucracy is standing in the way of saving lives.
The state will eventually collect over $80 million in settlements with opioid distributors and manufacturers. So far, it’s already received $20 million but has spent almost none of it.
That’s even though the need is huge, especially on the Big Island.
Tim Hansen, executive assistant to Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth, said a person dies every 11 days from overdose. Hansen said the prevention and treatment community is ready to respond — as soon as it has the money.
“It makes the slow movement of the bureaucracy even more painful, because I see what’s there, I see what the possibility is, and then you have to wait. And then lives are lost,” Hansen said.
He said one non-profit is moving quickly to provide the island’s first detox facility, but the state has said it doesn’t plan to put out a bid for staff until next October.
He’s also promoting an effort by the University of Hawaii at Hilo to expand the state’s only psychology and counseling master’s degree program by 50%.
Hansen told the House Health Committee on Wednesday that those initiatives just need a small amount of seed money to accelerate development.
House Health Committee Chair Della Belatti said the state should be taking advantage of the advanced funds. “A $17 million chunk of change could be used for maybe more urgent matters,” she said.
State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division Chief John Valera says he still has to follow the rules.
“There are the traditional ways of procuring and contracting that we that we have to adopt, and follow,” he said.
The division chief said more mobile medical units, which can serve patients without building new facilities, is one of the state’s priorities.
“So there’s an opportunity to serve more people, and to go where the people are, instead of making the people go to where the bricks and mortar locations are,” Valera said.
Valera said that’s an example of creative thinking that’s needed, although lawmakers and advocates say it’s far from enough to satisfy the immediate need.
“I think that Department of Health has been you know, cautious and moving forward just to make sure that all of the i’s are dotted, the T’s are crossed,” Hansen said.
“But in the meantime, one person every 11 days is dying on our island.”
Belatti said there are ways to get the money circulating to address the crisis.
“That money laying around is just unacceptable especially when we have it and it just may be accruing interests somewhere,” she said.
The exact amount that will come from opioid settlements is still to be determined, because there are still settlements and bankruptcy proceedings pending.
Most of the settlements involve payments spread over multiple years.
Unlike the tobacco industry settlements, which ended up being spread around many non-health programs, the opioid settlements are specifically restricted to opioid and substance abuse treatment and prevention.
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