The seven-town public health collaborative that includes Bedford is preparing strategies for spending pooled receipts from a court settlement with opioid manufacturers, marketers, and distributors.
Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter told the Board of Health on Monday that the Great Meadows Public Health Collaborative wants to hire a coordinator and come up with ways to “engage the community” to effectively implement the purposes of the funds.
The money emanates from a 2021 legal settlement with several pharmaceutical companies in connection with their manufacturing and distributing opioids. Bedford has received $102,900 for fiscal year 2023. Porter said Wednesday an additional $35,000 is expected for last year.
The money must be used for programs and other efforts to help people with substance use disorder, including prevention, education, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery.
The Great Meadows Collaborative was established in 2022 through two state grants to improve local public health capacity and services by pooling resources. Member towns include Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston.
Voters at November’s Bedford Special Town Meeting established an opioid settlement stabilization fund that is a legal receptacle for distributions and payments. Porter said the other six towns still need to take similar steps before the pooled money can be spent.
If all goes according to plan, she said, “we hope to hire an experienced person this summer.”
The collaborative has prepared a job description, she told the board.
Porter pointed out that under terms of the settlement, payments will decrease every year until they are exhausted in about 16 years. So, Great Meadows will, at some point, have to seek grants or even local budget funds to supplement its substance abuse programming, she said.
The collaborative is planning outreach surveys “to be sure we are meeting the needs of those who have been impacted,” Porter said.
Another idea that the group has discussed is increasing the availability of Narcan, the nasal spray used for emergency treatment of opioid overdose. Porter said there is a consensus that Narcan should be accessible in places like public rest rooms, for example, where someone in need could “just grab it and open it.” The plans should consider arrangements for replenishing the substance, she added.