Many big-money suits against opioid pharmaceutical companies are making their way through the courts. A few, including Oklahoma’s and two Ohio counties’, have already been settled.

West Virginia, Cabell County and Huntington’s opioid legal challenges probably will be decided next year. Much money is likely to be awarded to those communities that have been devastated by the opioid epidemic. The major concern has to be that these monies are used wisely.

Thankfully, Huntington and Cabell County professionals, schooled in the opioid crisis, have already developed a plan to address this issue. Historically, when massive financial awards are made to groups or individuals, they are often used unwisely. As I see it, when the money comes to our area, we need it to accomplish at least four goals.

First, we must make sure our local professional residential recovery and drug court programs continue to do their excellent work. The special facilities at Cabell Huntington Hospital and Lily’s Place for infants with neonatal abuse syndrome (NAS) are essential.

Secondly, we need intensive and ongoing anti-drug education programs/activities for 5- to 10-year-olds; none of those youngsters should be abusing drugs at that age. That will change in adolescence, when they will still need support.

The third goal requires that we look to the future. When Mayor Steve Williams spoke at a recent pharmaceutical hearing, he said that he wants a settlement “that helps make sure the city is able to deal with the fallout of the opioid epidemic over the next 40 years.” This is the crux of the matter.

We must recognize that schools and community will be impacted by the needs of children born with NAS. The current popular view is that if NAS babies are given excellent post-natal care and then released to a stable home, all will be well. That will work for some. Yet, scientific studies suggest that long-term hearing, vision, cognitive, emotional and behavioral difficulties are probable for many born with NAS. Schools will need specialized staff and programs for these students; that will cost significant money.

We also have a Pollyannaish view that all babies successfully treated for NAS will be fine when released home; not so. If a woman was unable to stay off drugs during her pregnancy, she may have difficulty remaining drug-free while caring for a fussy baby requiring extra attention.

Fourth, and absolutely vital, is that we must get rid of the “drug buyers” market here. As long as there is a demand, the sellers will continue to arrive. The Huntington Police Department and cooperating agencies have done a masterful job of trying to stem the drug inflow. Yet, just this month they arrested three people responsible for bringing in $110,000 worth of assorted drugs. It’s clear that with all the help offered people with their substance abuse problems, we still have a strong buyers’ market here. This must change or efforts to recover from the opioid crisis will be minimized.

The pharmaceutical companies eventually will pay our state and communities big bucks. The important issues are not how much money or when it will be paid but rather how this money will be spent to revitalize our state and communities from the devastating effects of the opioid crisis.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net

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