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Arizona got more than $1 billion in an opioid settlement. Here's how the money is being spent

The Arizona Department of Health Services reports more than 125 people have been confirmed to have died so far this year because of opioids. More than 1,700 people have had to go to the emergency room and hospital this year because of suspected opioid overdoses.

The state is getting more than $1 billion from a settlement related to opioid manufacturing and distribution, to be spent on prevention and treatment programs, among other things. Zac Ziegler, a producer and reporter at Arizona Public Media, has been looking into how much of that is being spent and what it’s being spent on.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: Let's start with where exactly this money will be going.

ZAC ZIEGLER: Yeah. You know, for the super wide angle on this, about [56%] of the money that's coming in will go to local governments, you know, cities, towns, counties, the other [44%] ends up staying at the state level though it can kind of trickle down from there. You know, we just saw an example of that at the end of last week when the joint legislative budget committee allocated about $11.5 million for reentry programs in the hands of some of the smaller counties like Yavapai County, Coconino County and some others. 

BRODIE: And let's talk about Yavapai County because you found that's one of the counties in the state, one of not many that is already using this money already spending this money on, on different programs.

ZIEGLER: Yeah. Yeah. And what we really heard,, from them was the big reason they can is because they had a program already set up and, and ready to go to help them start using that money. It's called the Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking. It's kind of an Intergovernmental body there that is run primarily out of the county sheriff's department. Other counties such as the larger ones, you know, Maricopa and Pima are managing to spend them but overall, it's, it's only about five of 15 who have reported spending to the Attorney General's Office yet.

BRODIE: So, of those other ones of those five that are reporting spending, what kinds of things are they spending it on?

ZIEGLER: You know, it's, it's really quite a wide ranging list of things that you see, it can be training for officers. Pima County amongst them, spent $150,000 on Narcan, that's the overdose reversal drug. Maricopa County is spending money on addictionologist for the Corrections Department. And we're seeing money go to nonprofits like Phoenix Rescue Mission and Southwest Behavioral Health services. It's really pretty across the board what it's getting spent on.

BRODIE: Are there other programs or other entities that some of the counties and maybe the state as well are planning to spend the money on and just haven't done it yet, or is it the case that, you know, what the money is being spent on so far is what we can expect to see later on, just maybe on a larger scale.

ZIEGLER: You know, that's,, it's really kind of, the thing is how much can people, can these entities get, get things going? The ones that did have something established really are able to spend and maybe even some of the smaller ones, you know, I found that thatcher was able to buy a 3D camera for crime scene investigations. That's a pretty small municipality out in the state's far eastern edge. So it's really kind of varied. We, there is planning but, you know, just like anything when it comes to spending in government, you know, there's, there's always a lag time for getting that money put to use. 

BRODIE: Right. Well, is that the reason that you heard from, from government entities about why this money hasn't been spent or more of it hasn't been spent, even though, you know, they've, in theory had access to it for quite a while now.

ZIEGLER: Yeah, that's always kind of a delay factor. And then there's also, of course, it's, it is possible that there's a delay in reporting these things, both for the report going to the Attorney General's Office and also for the Attorney General's Office putting out that information, the data that, that we found only covered last fiscal year. So anything that's been reported back since July 1, we wouldn't have knowledge about just yet.

BRODIE: Did you see any trends or did you hear about any trends in terms of what the counties and the state are, are trying to achieve with this money in terms of maybe trying to prevent opioids from coming in or education or, you know, treating, you know, treating people who are addicted to, to opiates, things like that.

ZIEGLER: Education and treatment are too that, that we saw a fair number of mentions of, you know, help for court related costs is also one that we saw both Pima and Pinal counties spending some money on, a lot of money going to nonprofits who, who are working for either, you know, addiction treatment, helping people out or raising awareness, helping to teach people about the issues of opioids in, in their neighborhoods on the streets or wherever really.

BRODIE: Do government leaders have a sense of what kind of a dent this money and, and the programs they're, they're spending the money on could have in the, the problem that the state is facing?

ZIEGLER: You know, at current, it seems like it's really a lot of, of people trying different ideas to figure things out. I mean, I, I saw things for everything from, you know, hiring staff that are doing things like a narcotics death investigator in Yavapai County to try and trace, certain narcotics back to drug dealers to you know, various other things like, I mentioned where it's going towards treatment, where it's going towards the courts because the courts are seeing a lot of these cases, or helping out in the actual corrections department, helping people once they get out of corrections with reentry.

BRODIE: Right. Well, and there's also, you know, kind of a sentiment that counties and cities and the state have already spent quite a bit of money on this issue on, you know, be it treatment or prevention or education. Is there any sense that some of this money can maybe be a reimbursement in terms of trying to help, help entities help municipalities or counties that have already spent a good amount of money on some of these things and sort of, you know, bring them back up to where they were.

ZIEGLER: Yeah, that was a large basis of, of the lawsuits and the settlements that we saw what we heard from the Attorney General's Office is that this money is meant to, to help make entities whole for what they have spent so far because they have been dealing with this issue for years and in all those places, they've been spending money. So they're hoping that the manufacturers that the pharmacies and others who were distributing through the legal channels, that this money will help kind of make the government entities whole again. 

BRODIE: So for the, the bigger counties specifically, I'm thinking Maricopa and Pima here, did they give you any kind of sense as to when they really expect to get up and running with, with funding the programs that they're going to fund.

ZIEGLER: So they are getting a fair amount of spending out already, not a ton in terms of the percentage of money they've received. We've seen Maricopa County has reported a little over half a million dollars spent while they've received almost $20 [million], about a quarter million in Pima County, and then some of the smaller entities, you know, you have a pay a couple of $100,000, and Pinal and Graham counties each spending in the tens of thousands. That's the money that's gone out the door so far. At least as far as reported. It probably helps that at least those top three had a fair amount of infrastructure in place already with, with that spending.

BRODIE: Right. All right. That is Zac Ziegler with Arizona Public media. Zac, good to talk to you. Thank you.

ZIEGLER: Thanks for having me on.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the interview, two percentages were transposed. The correct figures are 56% of the money is going to local governments: cities, towns and counties, and 44% of the money stays with the state. Although the audio is unchanged, the information has been corrected in the transcript.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record. 

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.