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    Friday, July 19, 2024

    Don't repeat tobacco fiasco; direct opioid lawsuit money to crisis

    It was good news to hear this week that Connecticut, along with several other states and local governments, had reached a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. It settles claims that the companies greatly contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis.

    Connecticut is expected to receive about $300 million over 18 years.

    It would be great news if the windfall is spent for prevention, treatment, and recovery support. And more money could be coming if and when a settlement is reached in the case against Purdue Pharma.

    At a Wednesday news conference Gov. Ned Lamont, Attorney General William Tong, and Nancy Navarretta, acting commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, all offered assurances the money would be spent on the problem.

    “Billions of dollars across this country will flow to abate the crisis and fund treatment and prevention. And hundreds of millions of dollars will come to Connecticut for that purpose,” Tong said.

    “This settlement will provide us with the resources to continue combating the long-lasting and destructive ripple effects of this epidemic,” Navarretta said.

    Sounds great, but count us as skeptical.

    Remember the massive settlement with Big Tobacco in 1998 by 46 states, including Connecticut? That money, too, was supposed to be invested in attacking addiction — tobacco addiction.

    A report two years ago by a group of health advocacy organizations found that over 20 years states spent just 2.6% of their tobacco-settlement revenue on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. During that time, states received $453.4 billion in tobacco revenue — $156.7 billion from the tobacco settlement and $296.7 billion from tobacco taxes — but they allocated only $11.8 billion to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

    Most of the money went to cover spending by states.

    Backers of the report, titled “Broken Promises to Our Children,” included the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Maybe this time will be different. But no one should assume the windfall will be allocated to address the crisis. Using the money for that purpose should be codified in state law. The news media needs to stay on top of this, as do advocacy groups.

    In 2020, a record 1,273 people in Connecticut died from opioid-involved overdoses. Connecticut, and the country, cannot miss the opportunity to bring those numbers down.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.