Applications Available For Opioid Abatement Funding

by Ryan Bray
Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering addresses the need for additional resources and training to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic before the board of health on May 16.  RYAN BRAY PHOTO Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering addresses the need for additional resources and training to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic before the board of health on May 16. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – The board of health plans to begin reviewing applications for opioid abatement funding at its next meeting in June.

The board on May 16 held a public hearing inviting residents and town officials to offer their ideas for how to use the funds, which came to the town by way of a federal settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors. The town will receive a total of $158,251.97 in settlement funding across multiple installments through 2038.

“The board would like to hear from citizens and those working in the community who can speak to the needs and strategies that might be most relevant to the town of Orleans,” Health Agent Alex Fitch said at the outset of the public hearing.

The $26 billion settlement was reached in 2022 with companies including Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. Of that figure, approximately $8 million will be distributed to communities across Cape Cod.

The town first started receiving abatement payments in July 2022, and Fitch said earlier this month that the town currently has about $47,000 in funding to allocate. Funds can be spent in seven categories including treatment for opioid use disorder, support for persons in treatment or recovery, harm reduction, connections to programs and services for people at risk of opioid use or addiction, diversion programs for people in the criminal justice system, support for pregnant women or mothers and their families and educational programming geared toward opioid prevention.

Fitch said that an application was to be made available starting May 20 for people or groups interested in applying for funding. The board will consider all applications received by the health department in the coming weeks at their next scheduled meeting on June 20.

Those who spoke at last week’s hearing identified a number of possible uses for the opioid funding. Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering said police and fire departments throughout the Cape are wrestling with a public health, mental health and addiction crisis that spans the entire region.

“It affects all ages, from our youth to our seniors and every demographic in between,” he said.

In a follow up email, Deering said the department responded to 22 incidents involving overdoses or substance abuse in 2020. He said 44 such incidents were responded to in 2021, followed by 31 in 2022 and 23 in 2023. Not all of those figures involved opioid use, Deering said, noting that in some cases it was a combination of substances.

Deering on May 16 advocated that the abatement funding be spent in part for additional training for police and fire officials as well as additional resources for members of the community who are struggling with addiction.

While there are many groups and organizations working to combat the problem, Deering said the need for services outstrips those organizations’ ability to effectively meet it.

“Many of our residents aren’t aware of the resources that are out there, or those resources just aren’t available to them because they’re overwhelmed,” he said.

Sheila House spoke on behalf of Behavioral Health Innovators, of which she is chair of the board of directors. Founded in 2015, the nonprofit focuses on providing prevention programming for youth and young adults, she told the board.

House specifically cited two programs for funding, including an alternative peer group that offers free treatment for youth and young adults for a period of six months. While initially met with resistance by some participants, House said the program connects with the young people that take part in its services.

“After about a month they don’t want to leave because they feel so supported,” she said.

The program is currently run through two campuses in Dennis and Orleans, but House said Behavioral Health Innovators is looking to expand its reach into other communities.

Another program, PASS (Positive Alternative to School Suspension), provides services including treatment and tutoring for students undergoing suspension from school. House said the Nauset Public Schools recently started offering the program to students as an alternative to staying home unsupervised during suspension.

Both the alternative peer group and PASS were developed with input from young adults and teens who have experienced addiction, House said.

“They just open up a lot more in these programs,” she said.

Another woman spoke to the board from the standpoint of a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose 18 months earlier. She said one of the biggest challenges for families trying to support a loved one with addiction is figuring out what to do after a person is initially treated.

“It was very hard for me to navigate this whole problem with my son,” she said. “If he was hospitalized, it was ‘Ok, what do we do after that?’”

She spoke in favor of Parents Supporting Parents, a nonprofit that helps connect families with available sober living.

“The social workers at the hospital helped but they were overwhelmed,” she said. “Finding beds was very hard, and then people who can’t afford it? Well, then they’re really stuck.”

Funding should also be directed toward services that can help people with addiction assimilate to life after leaving treatment, the woman said.

The potential for abatement funding to be pooled together across multiple towns was also discussed. John Kanaga of the health board said pooling resources where possible allows for a regional approach to the problem.

“There are a couple of those organizations that could help quite a bit,” he said.

The town also has the ability to fund projects across multiple years, and board member John Smith said applicants looking for multi-year funding should indicate that on their application. Fitch said she is working with Town Counsel Michael Ford to figure how best to budget for multi-year requests.

There also was acknowledgement that additional settlements could be made in the future that could net the town another source of abatement money.

“If there are future settlements, I think we need to look at the magnitude of those and how they might fit in,” said health board member Sims McGrath.

Applications for funding can be found online on the town website and are also available directly through the health department in town hall.

Email Ryan Bray at