State partnership that oversees opioid settlement funds announces plans and application process

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Arkansas’ New Opioid Recovery Partnership announced Friday that its application process for funds from the state’s $216 million Opioid Settlement Award is open and revealed initial plans for the settlement money.

The announcement, held at the Association of Arkansas Counties headquarters in Little Rock, coincided with the launch of the group’s website, arorp.org.

ARORP is a partnership between the Arkansas Counties Association and the Arkansas Municipal League.

The conference was led by ARORP Director Kirk Lane, Deputy Director Tenesha Barnes and Chris Villines, Executive Director of the Association of Arkansas Counties.

Among the group’s intended uses for the funding will be the creation of the Arkansas Naloxone Bank in connection with the AR Community Hero program. Naloxone is an FDA-approved drug to reverse opioid overdoses.

“We’re buying, to start with, half a million dollars worth of naloxone for families in Arkansas,” Lane said. “We’re putting that in a credit to the bank. We’ll be approving people through the HERO program to be those distribution points to people in our communities. So people who can teach people that they identify as members of family in need and distribute this free naloxone through them.

ARORP will also use funds to pay for overdose response teams who will be more deeply involved in post-overdose events than is typically done by law enforcement.

“It allows for a law enforcement agency to form and come in and apply for funding to fund a person, an investigator, to respond to overdoses in this community, in partnership with a peer recovery specialist, a person having lived experience to accompany this team to deal with this situation, “said Lane. “So this overdose response team has been formulating this for a while, and the state has done a good job of doing a few pilots, but those pilot funds are about to run out.”

Friday’s press conference came just over a year after state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced in October 2021 that Arkansas would receive $216 million in a settlement. $26 billion national opioid fund.

The settlement was the result of about four years of litigation against pharmaceutical distributors Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, as well as opioid manufacturer and distributor Johnson & Johnson.

Lane said Friday that Arkansas has received $10 million from the settlement so far. The remainder should be received over approximately 18 years. The money will be split equally, with cities, counties and the state each receiving one-third of every Arkansas dollar.

The settlement money is subject to court oversight and can only be spent on future programs, projects and strategies aimed at ending Arkansas’ opioid epidemic.

The Qualified Settlement Fund has been created and will be overseen by the Crittenden County Circuit Court.

“People are welcome to submit their proposals, but realize that we now have this funding spread over 16 to 18 years, and there are still settlements that are not completed,” Lane said. “So that number can build on where we’re going, and we want to be good stewards of that money and we want to work with all of you to make that happen.”

Friday’s event came two days after CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc. reached a tentative agreement to pay more than $13 billion tied to thousands of mismanagement lawsuits opioids.

Arkansas-based Walmart is expected to pay $3 billion.

“I know that will be an element that we add to our destination,” Lane said.

Lane took office Aug. 22 after serving as Arkansas’ drug director since August 2017.

Lane said ARORP’s first few months were like “flying a plane and building it too.”

“It worked as quickly as possible and created a website, laid all the ground rules, met with lawyers to make sure we are doing everything right according to this court order and our own plans, speaking to the board members, interviewing the board members and bringing them all together…and formatting what we do and making sure everyone plays well in the sandbox to do well for cities and counties .

According to a 2018 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, between 2013 and 2016, Arkansas experienced 800 deaths from opioid overdoses.

In September, citing numbers from the Arkansas Opioid Response Dashboard, the Arkansas attorney reported that opioid-related deaths in Arkansas had risen from 180 in 2019 to 261 in 2020 and 371 in 2021.

The most recent numbers available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Arkansas had 546 general overdose deaths in 2020. That ranked 17e least in the country, including Washington, D.C.


Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Counties of Arkansas, discusses plans for awarding Arkansas’ share of opioid settlement funds during a press conference Friday at the Association of Counties of Arkansas to Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)



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