NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper has announced Metro Nashville is set to receive $23 million in opioid settlement funds over the next 18 years.

The money comes after years of negotiations. Mayor Cooper stated in a press release, “Through it all, we were fortunate to have a lead role at the table. We won these funds at no cost to the county taxpayer. My administration and Metro departments are committed to using these funds to help save lives.”

Mary Linden Salter, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug, and other Addiction Services (TAADAS), explained this money comes right on time. The organization is home to Tennessee REDLINE, which has served as a referral service to addiction treatment for people and their families looking for help for substance use disorders. This year, REDLINE is seeing an increasing number of people seeking help from addiction.

“Nine hundred to a thousand calls in a month. Now, it’s much closer to 2,000,” described Salter. “The amount of opioids that have been prescribed over time, we were like the leading state in terms of opioid prescriptions for several years in a row.”

With Nashville set to receive $23 million dollars from the settlement, Mayor Cooper is hoping to invest in life-saving programs.

“I think it’s a real crisis when people overdose, that we can’t say come with me to treatment now, and unfortunately we can’t. So, that connection to treatment is something that the Mayor’s proposal is seeking to do,” said Salter.

Salter described a same-day access system that would allow first responders, emergency rooms and other providers to step in and give people suffering from an overdose the resources to help. She explained, often times when someone overdoses, life-saving medication like Narcan is given. The drug essentially brings the person back to life, and gets rid of the drugs in the system. However, when that happens, the person could possibly go into withdrawal.

“They’re immediately sick, they are in withdrawals, they’re craving, they’re shaking, they’re shaking, they’re nauseous and of course, their body is telling them you need to go use more substances to be able to manage what’s going on. So, if you don’t have an alternative to offer them at that moment, they’re going to go use again,” Salter said.

The settlement money comes after drug companies advertised to the public, stating opioids were less likely to lead to addiction if taken correctly, but Salter explained, “Doctors prescribed them believing that as long as people followed instructions that there was little to no risk of addiction, and that wasn’t the case.”

She said the dangers come when the drugs stop coming in, and suddenly, someone could find an addiction has formed.

“So, a lot of people ended up using things that were not prescribed because they can’t manage the withdrawal, they can’t manage the addiction,” Salter said.

Dr. Calvin Smith with Meharry Medical College, said, “Fatal and non-fatal overdoses are still on the rise over the last three years here in Nashville. This speaks to the availability of prescription opioids and easy access to illicit opioids, like fentanyl.”

TAADAS has been working to make changes on a state level. Several bills have been signed by Governor Bill Lee, including changes to fentanyl test strips that were once considered drug paraphernalia, which will now be legal for those excluding drug dealers. The effort focuses on helping those who take drugs, giving them the option to test a substance before taking it.

The first payment from the settlement could arrive as early as May 2022.

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The Tennessee REDLINE is the 24/7/365 resource for substance abuse treatment referrals.  Anyone can call or text 800-889-9789 for confidential referrals.