Eye On Illinois: Settlement cash a welcome influx, but warranting continued scrutiny

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Good news sometimes heralds the need for hard work.

That’s the takeaway from digging into the details of the $760 million Illinois expects to collect over the next 18 years from a $26 billion nationwide settlement with companies that make and distribute prescription painkillers.

According to Capitol News Illinois, the state will use the money to implement its overdose action plan, which requires appointing (and paying) a settlement administrator to make sure the money is spent legally, funding recovery and treatment programs.

To be certain money goes to the communities most in need, an appointed advisory board will make recommendations. Leading the board is David Jones, an associate Department of Human Services secretary who is the state’s chief behavioral officer. That board has to work with an existing opioid steering committee, which operates under Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton as well as public health and human services department directors.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said 94 Illinois counties and 77 municipalities signed on to the settlement, which dictates how much each expects to collect. According to the deal, at least 85% must be spent on treatment, education and prevention efforts. He also said he expects more money from ongoing legal actions with other drug companies, including $36 million over nine years from Mallinckrodt.

“It’s important to highlight the abatement and remediation of the crisis is the primary goal of the settlements and the resources that come from the settlement,” Raoul said. “Unlike major settlements of the past, the vast majority of funds Illinois receives through the settlements will go towards a remediation fund. This fund will be used to pay for abatement programs throughout the state instead of being used to pay for other unrelated initiatives.”

So yes, hard work for the many government officials and appointed officials tasked with spending all the money and getting afflicted people desperately needed help.

But also hard work for the watchdogs, who have generations of reasons to suspect not all $760 million will be spent prudently – or legally – despite (or because of) the number of people involved in funds administration. Even keeping track of things to make sure no more than 15% is spent on administration could be a challenge, to say nothing of how that portion is allocated.

Illinoisans should be comfortable joining with officials to celebrate the influx and hopefully marking a course reversal for a longstanding struggle with way painkillers have ravaged families and communities, but we also know managing a nine-figure sum over nearly two decades is the kind of challenge past leaders have failed to meet.

Red tape isn’t the answer, but lawmaker oversight and diligent state auditors will be essential in keeping everything above board in the coming years.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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August 4, 2022 at 05:14AM

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