Aroostook County establishes task force to determine best use of opioid settlement money

2 months ago

Aroostook County officials have invited members of the public to apply for seats on a newly established task force, designed to help county commissioners determine how to spend $2.7 million in opioid settlement funds.

“The goal of the task force is really to provide guidance to the commissioners about where the money should be spent,” County Administrator Ryan Pelletier said Wednesday. “I’m envisioning the task force developing an application process with a scoring matrix. When groups start looking for some of this money, there will be some parameters established.” 

The settlement dollars are the product of national litigation related to the excessive harm caused by the distribution of billions of highly addictive prescription pain pills over nearly a decade.

More than 26.6 million prescription pain pills were supplied to people in Aroostook County from 2006 to 2014, according to data compiled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and analyzed by the Washington Post.

Excessive prescribing of highly addictive pills like oxycodone is at the heart of the opioid crisis, according to national substance use disorder experts.  

The top five Aroostook County opiate distributors were Cardinal Health, 8.5 million pills; McKesson Corp., 5.4 million; Walmart, 4.3 million; Eckerd Corp., 3.1 million; and Rite Aid, 2.1 million. The Houlton Walmart supplied 2.8 million legal pain pills, which equals 580 pills per person residing in Houlton, according to the Washington Post data.

Similar to national trends, people in Aroostook County continue to struggle with substance use disorder and its related issues even as some overdose numbers show a slight decline. Last year there were 447 non-fatal overdoses and 39 fatalities in The County. In 2022, there were 490 non-fatal and 47 fatal overdoses. 

The settlement funds will be distributed over 16 years. So far The County has received $391,000 in two settlement payments, but the amount, according to Pelletier, is below what government officials estimated would have already been paid.

Because the annual payouts are not large, The County has been holding on to the money already received to build up enough to be able to do something with it and now they are ready to consider options, Pelletier said. 

The County gets a one-time Walmart payment of $172,643. Spread out over several years, the County will get approximately $600,000 from CVS and Walgreens; $380,000 from Teva and Allergan, and $1.7 million from Johnson & Johnson, according to the Maine attorney general’s office.

According to Pelletier, the payouts are estimated and actual distribution may vary slightly. 

Pelletier recommended the task force include nine people, including himself as administrator, Aroostook County Sheriff Peter Johnson and Aroostook County Finance Director Dana Gendreau. The other six public members will be appointed by the commissioners. 

During the Feb. 21 board meeting, the commissioners approved Pelletier’s

recommendation and added that the three Commissioner Districts would equally be represented by two members each.

Pelletier said that counseling is important for people with substance use disorder but the number one priority is to reach them before they are in jail, otherwise they are being treated in jails and that is not the place to do it. 

The County is now accepting applications from interested individuals who would like to be considered for appointment to the task force. Interested individuals should email their letter of interest and qualifications to Pelletier at ryan@aroostook.me.us or mail them to 144 Sweden St., Suite 1, Caribou, ME 04736. Deadline for letters of interest is March 29. For more information, contact Ryan Pelletier, county administrator at 207-493-3318.