Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, in the chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (Stew Milne/Alabama Reflector)
Lawmakers and public officials heard proposals from different organizations Thursday for spending grant money from the state’s share of a national opioid settlement agreement.
Fourteen groups who made their pitch for funding to members of the Oversight Commission on Opioid Settlement Funds during Thursday’s meeting, hoping to secure a grant from the estimated $249 million that Alabama is expected to receive.
“If you will recall, the Legislature, House and Senate, passed the first allocation of funds, which was $10 million, $1.5 million of that went to the prisons, the ADOC,” said Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the committee. “The other $8.5 million, which is what you will hear about today.”
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The proposals included treatment services and prevention measures; fentanyl detection and veteran support.
The funding came from a settlement between the state and companies who have been largely blamed for precipitating the crisis in which thousands of people, spread across the nation, have become addicted to painkillers and other opioids, about $21 billion spread out over the next 18 years, based on the 2021 settlement.
State Opioid Coordinator Debbi Metzger said there are three waves to the opioid epidemic.
“The first is the overprescribing of very potent prescription opioids to individuals,” she said. “Alabama was number one in the nation for many years, and as a result of that, the overprescribing led to numbers in overdoses like we had never seen before.”
The second wave of opioid deaths happened in 2010 when heroin use increased. That was followed by a third wave that began in 2013 with the rise of synthetic opioids.
Alabama’s death rate from drug overdoses was 30.1 per 100,000 people in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of death from opioid overdoses was 21.2 per 100,000, according to KFF.
Kimberly Boswell, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said grants may be awarded based on prevention, treatment and recovery support. Prevention grants have no limitations because “as anyone may be affected by substances at many points in their lifetime,” Boswell said.
Most of the money will be directed toward treatment, with almost $6 million of the allocation going toward firms who specialize in that area. Those who specialize in prevention will receive 20% of the money followed by recovery services at 10%.
Applicants came from different areas. His Way Ministries and New Life for Women are treatment centers, which helps clients with addictions were two of the companies who presented at the committee, and will likely submit a request for proposal for grant funding.
The amount was not disclosed at the meeting. The window to apply for funding that includes specific projects began Friday.
“We have served over a 1,000 men and their families, have graduated 500 into a life of recovery through a nine-month extensive recovery program,” said Tom Reynolds, director of ministry for His Way Ministries, based in the Huntsville area. “We have consistently exceeded a 90% graduation rate in our 16 years.”
Others, such as the Military Officers Association, said that the Alabama Department of Mental Health has spent $40 million per year for the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council, but nothing has been allocated specifically for veterans and their families.
“Suffice it to say, our state is not meeting the needs of our servicemen and women,” said Jerry Steele, who leads the Alabama chapter of the Military Officers Association.
Sunray, a Huntsville company, sought money for the development of a machine that detected fentanyl placed within containers.
“This device could be used in a prison walking through the screener,” said Steve Schmidt, who is listed as the agent for the company. “It can be used in a mailroom. It can be used in Montgomery to screen every piece of mail that comes in.”
Companies may submit their requests for proposals at the Department of Mental Health’s website. Officials will begin reviewing and evaluating the proposals throughout December and the committee will meet in January to recommend awards.
“You look at the resources, and the multiple ways that opioid addiction is impacting our life,” said Cam Ward, Director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. “I talk about it from the criminal justice side, but you heard someone talk about how it is impacting services and other agencies.”
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