NORTHAMPTON — Northampton’s Department of Health and Human Services is currently looking for community input about how the city should spend its Opioid Settlement Funding.

According to an announcement by the city, the responses from the survey will be compiled to help determine strategies for how the city can address opioid addiction and overdose loss in the community.

“We see the survey as just a first step in identifying priorities for community interventions,” said Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s health commissioner.
The announcement of this survey comes three years after the Massachusetts Attorney General participated in a nationwide financial legal effort that demanded abatement of the harms caused by the opioid epidemic.

Specifically, the state’s attorney general set in motion a series of legal settlements with pharmaceutical companies and opioid distributors who are complicit in galvanizing the opioid crisis.

The settlements meant that these companies and distributors would allocate funds directly to the state’s municipalities, and the dollars would be used to address harm done to residents, driven by the needs of each community.

To date, Northampton has received a little over $239,000 from these settlements, and will eventually receive a total of just over $2 million via annual payments through 2038.

According to O’Leary, the funding can go towards a variety of interventions like continued harm reduction efforts, recovery supports, early primary intervention and plans around housing and transportation.

“However, what is important to us at DHHS as stewards of the opioid settlement funds is that we listen to the voices of our community and those who have been impacted by this epidemic,” O’Leary said.

The survey comes several months after the Northampton City Council unanimously approved the formation of an Opioid Stabilization Fund to house the settlement money obtained from the commonwealth.

These funds we are getting, we are grateful for,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra during the June council meeting when the Fund was discussed. “But we recognize that they are part of a settlement due to real pain and suffering.”

People are encouraged to complete the survey by March 12, but O’Leary said the city will accept responses “on a rolling basis” after mid-March.

“We realize not everyone may have a chance to complete the survey in this time, and so responses will be accepted on a rolling basis so folks feel they have a chance to express their views, even after mid-March,” O’Leary said. “Depending on how many/which strategies are prioritized, we may consider additional focus groups or a Northampton specific community forum(s) to dive into further details.”

According to O’Leary, there is no concrete timetable for when the city has to spend this first round of funds, though she said the DHHS are “eager” to allocate the funds.

“We’re eager to begin allocating funds once we take this important first step of community feedback and do not want to sit idly as overdoses still impact our region,” she told Reminder Publishing. “At the same time, there are no guidelines to timing, and thinking with a mid/long-term sustainability framework will be an important balance to strike.”

O’Leary added that the DHHS sees the survey as helping to plan “phase one” and not necessarily the entire length of settlement payments.

“We recognize the landscape can change very quickly and we want to be adaptable to needs that might arise in the next few years,” she said.

According to the survey announcement, the same survey will be shared across all Hampshire County communities through the facilitation of Hampshire HOPE, which is a countywide coalition focused on the impact of opioid misuse in the region. Representatives from different cities and towns participated in a work group to create the survey.

“While the survey has been a collaborative effort, each city and town across the region will determine what strategies to prioritize over the course of the funding”, said Taylor McAndrew, Hampshire HOPE Coordinator. “This will be a unique process, just as each municipality is receiving a specific amount of funding and may identify distinctive strengths and barriers in their community.”

Each settlement has its own specific timeline and payment schedule, according to O’Leary. Typically, however, most of the payments are annual and happen each July.

People can access the survey by visiting the Opioid Settlement Fund page on the Hampshire HOPE website, hampshirehope.org.

The public can also access translated versions of the survey from that webpage, find locations downtown to pick up paper copies and connect to different statewide resources.

Those who need assistance with taking the survey can contact 413-587-1314.

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