‘Stole my youth’: Opioid lawsuit settlement money may help those struggling with addiction

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CLEVELAND – Millions of dollars from the federal opioid lawsuit settlement will likely be used to provide resources to deal with the overwhelming need felt by local treatment centers.

On Monday, four drug companies agreed to a $260 million settlement with Summit and Cuyahoga counties. The settlement agreement was reached before the first trial was set to begin in the case, which was considered a bellwether for 2,600 other municipalities that are plaintiffs in national litigation against drug makers, distributors and pharmacies.

While Cuyahoga and Summit counties have not yet announced specifically how they’ll use the latest settlement money to combat the opioid epidemic, some of that money is likely to make it to drug treatment centers, including Stella Maris on Cleveland’s west side.

Nathan Burchak, who said he struggled with opioid addiction for years, is currently a client living in a dorm at the facility.

“Stella Maris saved my life,” he said.

But Stella Maris Director of Nursing Carole Negus said need currently far exceeds space and resources for those struggling with addiction.

“If they don't get into detox, there's a good chance that they're going to die waiting to get into detox,” Negus said.

Intake at the center is located in a trailer, and there are currently more than 120 people on the daily wait list to enter detox, Negus said. It can take weeks for someone to get a bed.

“I think the reason that the wait list has gone up so much definitely has to do with this opioid epidemic, there's no question about it,” Negus said.

The widespread drain on resources caused by the epidemic prompted Summit and Cuyahoga counties to sue drug companies, leading to Monday’s settlement.

“I'm hoping that it's going to help a lot of different areas,” Negus said.

Summit County has created a task force to determine how to use settlement money.

According to phase one of Cuyahoga County’s Opioid Crisis Mitigation Plan, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County will receive $5.5 million to expand residential treatment at Stella Maris.

The money would add 32 inpatient beds and expand programming, benefiting 260 clients.

Stella Maris leaders said more money through the latest settlement could be used to sustain expanded programming.

“It has to be something they're going to help us sustain, because it's not going to go away,” Negus said.

Stella Maris raised money separately, through a capital campaign, for a current expansion that will more than double its detox capacity, allowing treatment of an additional 3,300 people each year.

Burchak said he hopes the settlement will provide resources for those who need it.

“I think it's great,” Burchak said. “It's been a long time coming, and I think it will help a lot of people.”

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