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Bedford County joins localities in opioid settlement funding

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BEDFORD — Bedford County will join dozens of other Virginia cities and counties impacted by the opioid crisis in receiving money from a sweeping nationwide settlement agreement reached with several opioid manufacturers and distributors.

A $26 billion settlement was reached last summer among multiple states and drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, plus three companies that distribute opioids: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. Settlement money will be disbursed over multiple years throughout participating, impacted localities and will fund abatement and treatment programs for opioid misuse. The dollar amount to each locality is yet unknown, as the process remains ongoing.

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors last week unanimously moved to enter a memorandum of understanding signing on to become a recipient of settlement funds, which will support county-borne costs related to the opioid crisis.

The Amherst County Board of Supervisors and the Nelson County Board of Supervisors each recently passed similar resolutions in support of the settlement agreement funding.

Bedford County attorney Patrick Skelley said the settlement money will help offset costs that departments such as the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and the Bedford County Fire and Rescue Department incur in their efforts responding to situations where opioid and substance abuse are factors. Bedford County’s Family Treatment Drug Court also could benefit.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia and its cities and counties have been required and will continue to be required to allocate substantial taxpayer dollars, resources, staff energy and time to address the damage the opioid epidemic has caused and continues to cause the citizens of Virginia,” the resolution stated in part.

The opioid crisis across Virginia is “adversely impacting, amongst other things, the delivery of emergency medical, law enforcement, criminal justice, mental health and substance abuse services, and other services,” the resolution said.

Prescription opioids such as Oxycontin — a drug highlighted in online streaming service Hulu’s recent original series, “Dopesick” — have been connected to a public health nightmare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported overdose deaths involving an opioid in the United States have increased about six times since 1999. In 2019, the CDC said more than 70% of overdose deaths nationwide involved an opioid.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has fueled the ongoing crisis, according to the CDC. With effects similar to morphine, the National Institute on Drug Abuse said fentanyl is “50 to 100 times more potent.”

Other parties involved in the settlement agreement for Virginia include the attorney general; the counsel, or the group of attorneys representing the political subdivisions — which are the Virginia counties and independent cities represented — and all Virginia localities that sign the MOU.

The Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority will handle allocation of settlement funds when they arrive, according to the documentation.

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