The Mat-Su Borough Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to begin allocating $2.3 million of opioid distribution settlement funds on July 18.
The borough has held three community meetings about how to use funds wisely – in Willow, Palmer, and Wasilla. Residents also filled out surveys online and submitted online comments.
Michael Carson, the chair of the Mat-Su Opioid Task Force, said based on the surveys, the grants will go to programs working on treatment, prevention, harm reduction, and recovery. Carson said that keeping the focus clear promises better outcomes.
“It really focuses on those four specific areas,” Carson said. “And I think that will definitely get us a bigger bang for our buck and really be able to turn the corner on this epidemic.”
The borough used public input to determine how to direct the funds. Based on that, they plan to allocate 30% of the funds to treatment, 30% to prevention, 10% to harm reduction and 10% to recovery. All the funds will be focused on education and training.
For example, funds for harm reduction could be used on training on how to use the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. Funds for treatment could be used to train behavioral health workers to treat opioid addiction.
Through the comment process, people also shared that it was difficult to find clear information and resources about the opioid epidemic. As a result, the borough plans to allocate the remaining 20% of funding toward media. That would likely include a media campaign to centralize information and make it easily accessible.
Carson said based on the comments shared by Mat-Su community members, it’s clear residents have evolved in their thinking about the epidemic. In the past, some people have suggested that no money should be spent on the opioid epidemic. But Carson said this time, there were almost no negative comments.
“As time has gone, more and more families have been directly affected by the opioid epidemic,” he said. “So I think what happens is people understand that it’s a chronic brain disease, it’s progressive and deadly. And it’s not a moral failing.”
The funds will be rolled out over 18 years. Each year, $50,000 to $150,000 will be distributed through up to 40 separate grants. Organizations will be able to apply for the funding under one of the focus areas and can also apply to renew grants. They’ll have to report on exactly how the funds are used and on the outcomes of their work.