New nonprofit will decide how to spend hundreds of millions of Ohio’s opioid settlement money

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The decision of how Ohio will spend hundreds of millions of dollars – and maybe more – in opioid settlement money will be up to a new non-profit, whose board met for the first time on Monday.

The 29-member OneOhio Recovery Foundation Board consists of state representatives, local government leaders (including Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish), addiction treatment experts, and others from around the state. Under an agreement between state and local officials made in 2020, the new foundation will decide how to distribute more than $440 million (or 55%) of an $808 million settlement reached last year with the nation’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Under the agreement, another 30% of the settlement money will get distributed among more than 2,000 local governments in Ohio. The final 15% will go to the state, though Gov. Mike DeWine said OneOhio might also gain control over spending some of the state’s share.

The settlement resolved lawsuits filed by the state of Ohio and more than 140 local governments related to the companies’ role in the opioid epidemic. If the state or local governments reach settlements in other opioid lawsuits, the board could be given control over spending even more money.

It’s too soon to tell whether OneOhio might get additional money from other lawsuit settlements, said Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dave Yost’s office.

It’s also too early to tell how OneOhio will divvy up the money it has — or even how long it will take the non-profit will make such decisions, said board member Aimee Shadwick, the interim director of RecoveryOhio, DeWine’s mental-health and anti-addiction initiative. OneOhio still has to hire an executive director and other staff.

OneOhio board members spent Monday introducing themselves and discussing topics such as the board’s ethics policy, as well as other initial tasks.

DeWine, in a short speech to the board, said he wants Ohio to spend opioid settlement money to address the state’s opioid epidemic rather than use it the same way state officials spent the $10.1 billion the state received from tobacco companies in 1998 to recover health-care costs for tobacco-related diseases. Much of that money paid for things that had nothing to do with tobacco use, such as school construction and covering a state budget deficit.

“The money ended up being spent for good things, I’m sure,” said DeWine. “But when … we looked at the smoking problem in Ohio and the tobacco problem in Ohio, frankly … there was very little money to do anything with because we monetized it and spent it.”

DeWine also recommended that local governments work together to pool resources, especially those communities that won’t get a lot of money on their own.

“A township, for example, might be getting a relatively small amount of money. What are they going to do with $1,000? What are they going to do with $3,000?” DeWine asked rhetorically. “So again, these are things that we thought, the pooling of the money might be the wise thing to do.”

The money will get divided between 19 different regions, each of which appointed a board member. DeWine picked five board members, the Ohio General Assembly selected four, and Attorney General Dave Yost picked one.

Most board members are white — though there are exceptions, such as former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman.

Asked about the racial diversity of the board, Shadwick (who did not have control over the makeup of the board) said it was a “big priority” for the DeWine administration to choose board members who have professional and geographic diversity and people who have personal experience with opioid abuse from family members.

“We’re really proud of the appointments that the governor made, and certainly that’s the same guidance that we’ve given to the region(s) — that when they think about making their appointments, that they’re making appointments of people who are representative of their community,” Chadwick said.

DeWine also told reporters that he would “make it clear” to the board that they should “bring in experts in the area of addiction specifically as it deals with people of color.”

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