Commission releases opioid litigation funds to support addiction, mental health services

Humboldt County is set to receive just over $2.5 million in multiple payments from litigation against opioid prescribers, manufacturers and distributors to be spent locally from now through 2038. The litigation is being carried out nationwide against those found to be major proponents in the opioid epidemic by a bipartisan alliance of attorney generals from around the United States. 

At their regular meeting on March 4, the Humboldt County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request from the Family Support Center to use $276,120 of the funds Humboldt County has received so far to go towards addiction and mental health services.

According to Family Support Center Executive Director Renee Mayo, “The goal is to offer services for people who are struggling with opioid addiction. It will involve individual counseling, group counseling, and some parenting counseling, because it does not affect just the individual but the whole family, along with the community.”

During the Humboldt County Opioid Summit held on April 3, 2023, multiple local government representatives and community stakeholders gathered to assess how the public would like to see funds from the litigation expended to address addiction. The Summit found that many community members would like to see the funds used towards services to help individuals combat addiction, since resources are very limited in rural areas. 

Since the Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in Oct. 2017, the federal government, states, and counties have been working to address the crisis. 

The epidemic is thought to have been caused by the overprescribing of painkillers after the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations required pain be assessed as the fifth vital sign (temperature, pulse blood pressure, respiration rate and pain) by medical professionals, changing the way doctors both practice medicine and get paid.Those left addicted to opioids after being prescribed them by a doctor have been left to turn to the streets after regulation ramped up on legitimate opioid prescriptions. 

The Family Support Center is a nonprofit organization that specializes in both mental health services and resources for substance abuse counseling and cessation programs and medical treatments.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time people are getting addiction treatment and mental health treatment, because it's co-occurring,” explained Mayo. 

The funds will go towards counseling for individuals, their families and loved ones, peer support, facility costs, and much of the casework that often has to be done in order to help keep people on track with their programs in the form of reimbursements. 

“You'll see on our application that there are expenses for rents, our computer system, all that because a portion of those, the building and our services for our internet stuff, goes towards helping that person, so you do that in order to help cover some of your expenses because it is just a cost reimbursement,” explained Mayo.  

Mayo explained that Medicaid may only cover a limited number of visits for treatment against addiction or mental health services and treatment is a long and cumbersome process, with many individuals needing to come in multiple times a week for treatment. 

The funds will help pay providers so they can keep providing services even when Medicaid or other services run out. 

The Commission also approved the formation of a special subcommittee, the Opioid Subcommittee, to oversee the funding requests and make sure that they align with the Humboldt County Needs Assessment, which identifies systemic gaps in addressing the local opioid abuse conditions. 

Opioid Subcommittee Chair Pauline Salla said that the subcommittee will review the applications submitted for the funding and, using a method that mirrors the state’s, help gather information and data to update the Assessment. 

According to Humboldt County Comptroller Gina Rackley, the Family Support Center was the only entity to submit an application to use the funds and they also happen to meet all of the specifications required in order to utilize the funding.

The Family Support Center works to gain funding from multiple sources, not just the County, in order to provide resources to the community and continues to do so around the clock. Having access to these funds not only enhances their ability to provide, but to continue to provide as opioid addiction still remains a nationwide problem. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), roughly “7.7 millions adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders,” and the NIDA reports that 52.5 percent of people did not seek help for mental health or substance abuse issues in 2017 because they could not afford the cost. 

“We're constantly trying to call, get them engaged, get them to come back and continue services. It's not it's not an easy process,” said Mayo.