Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul holds a press conference in February 2022 alongside Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart to announce final approval of a national $26 billion opioid settlement agreement with the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors. | Provided Photo

County officials say they have begun authorizing the spending of millions of dollars of funding to combat the opioid epidemic in Lake County after drug company lawsuit settlements are distributed.

The Lake County Board during a board meeting earlier this month authorized the spending of more than $1.5 million the county has received so far.

The county will initially use some of the funding to hire an opioid coordinator and implement an Opioid Education Program with the Regional Office of Education to provide education to schools across the county.

“The opioid crisis is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Lake County residents and, tragically, families are grieving the loss of children, parents, and even grandparents every day,” Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart said.

“While we have actively been fighting the opioid epidemic for several years, the infusion of money into Lake County to directly combat this scourge will help us do even more,” Hart said.

Hart said the opioid coordinator will be focused on obtaining more grant funds and distributing funds to community groups who are on the front lines of the public health crisis.

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An Illinois opioid allocation agreement was approved in December 2021 by the Illinois Attorney General and by Illinois counties with a population over 250,000.

National settlements were reached with the Janssen group of companies and distributors in January 2022.

Lake County is currently estimated to receive approximately $215,000 per year for 18 years for a total of approximately $3.9 million in settlement funding.

Additional settlement agreements and litigation are pending in the federal court system that will add to the distributions.

County officials previously said they expect the total settlement funding to double once all litigation is complete.

The county has received the first five years of payments totaling nearly $1.5 million.

The funds are required to be used to address the opioid epidemic through remediation.

Officials will focus on the misuse and abuse of opioid products, treating or mitigating opioid use or related disorders and mitigating other effects of the opioid abuse crisis.

“Our staff has meticulously reviewed the guidelines we must follow, determining how to best distribute the dollars across Lake County and help those who are in crisis right now,” said Paras Parekh, chair of the Health and Community Services Committee.

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“But this crisis does not end within this county’s borders, so our focus must be how to work with our partners regionally and nationally to address this crisis across geographic boundaries. We recognize opioid-related deaths continue to rise. With these funds, we can clearly do more,” Parekh said.

Some of the initial funds will also be used to develop an opioid education program overseen by the Regional Office of Education.

The program will include conducting Narcan training within all school districts, professional development training, creation of age-appropriate lesson plans to be taught within the schools beginning in January 2024, as well as conducting presentations and resource fairs at schools.

“The Regional Office of Education is looking forward to supporting school districts with this funding and being a leader in the state when legislation with NARCAN and drug education begins later this year,” Lake County Regional Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Karner said.

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“This funding will help provide local resources to our schools to address the ongoing opioid epidemic,” Karner said.

The Lake County Coroner’s Office reported alarming data showing the recent increase in overdose deaths in the county.

During the first quarter of this year, 43 of 53 overdoses were attributed to opioids in the county.

38 of those contained fentanyl and 27 were solely fentanyl overdoses.

There have been nearly four times the number of fentanyl overdoses in the first four months of this year as there were in the entire year of 2021.

Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said the opioid settlements do not undo the damage that has been done.

“These settlement funds will be used to further assist those with substance use disorders and prevent further loss of life. We are committed to seeking out and receiving additional opioid settlement funds that have been provided to the State to build additional treatment capacity both locally and regionally,” Pfister said.