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Multi-billion dollar Walmart settlement could help treat opioid crisis in northern Michigan

Prescription opioids like OxyContin
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More than 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in Michigan last year, compared to around 100 people just 20 years ago. (Photo: Hero Images.)

Northern Michigan could get some funding for opioid addiction treatment after a $3.1 billion nationwide settlement was reached with Walmart last week.

Michigan’s Dana Nessel was among many attorneys general critical of the retail giant’s “lax dispensing of prescription opioids.”

“Pharmacies had a bit of a unique role in that they were dispensing the medications and probably were seeing the patterns sooner than a lot of other people,” said David McGreaham, medical director of the Northern Michigan Opioid Response Consortium, which serves 25 counties in the region.

Walmart has denied any fault, but has still offered the settlement to end lawsuits brought forward by states, cities and tribal governments.

“I think the settlement dollars are fair, and that money will be put to good use,” said McGreaham.

McGreaham said one major need in the region is recovery housing, where people trying to stay off of opiates can live safely with others on the path to recovery.

“They need a place to live; they shouldn’t be going back to their homes,” said McGreaham. “There aren’t nearly enough of those homes in the state of Michigan, especially in northern Michigan.”

Other areas of need, according to McGreaham, are related to overdose prevention. More than 2,000 people died from opioid overdoses in Michigan last year; just 20 years ago, that number was closer to 100.

“I think we need more and more resources to help get Naloxone out to people – the medication that reverses opioid overdoses,” McGreaham said, “and education about the risks of some of these prescription looking pills that people are buying on the streets that are laced with fentanyl or exclusively made out of fentanyl.”

More funding may come in the near future, as Attorney General Dana Nessel said similar settlements could soon be reached with pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS.

Patrick Shea is an environmental reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.