Tracking Wellesley’s opioid settlement funds

A Boston Globe article this week called out communities across the state that have yet to put a combined millions of dollars in opioid settlement funds to work. The funds come through national and state lawsuits against drug makers, distributors, and others for their responsibility in the opioids health crisis.

Wellesley, according to a state accounting as of September, has received about $250K to use for services designed to address opioid-related issues locally (a Globe chart shows about $213K). Wellesley is among those communities that have not yet spent the funds in large part due to restrictive state accounting rules.

Those rules have just recently changed based on legislation (Chapter 77 of the Acts of 2023) signed into law by Gov. Maura Healey in early December. Wellesley would have required Town Meeting to approve spending the funds if not for the new law, which provides an exception to the general rule that all receipts are to be recorded as general fund revenue.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, we had a warrant article planned for the spring town meeting that would allow us to spend the opioid settlement funds,” says Lenny Izzo, Wellesley’s director of community and public health, whose department has now pulled the article.

“This should make the process for towns and cities to manage these funds more efficient,” Izzo says. “I imagine with this change, you will begin to see more municipalities spending their funds in the near future.”

Izzo pointed to an Opioid Settlement Receipts Guidance Letter from the state’s Director of Accounts that reads in part: “Cities and towns that have received or will receive funds in Fiscal Year 2024 […] may place said funds into a special revenue fund. The proceeds can then be expended, without further appropriation, at the direction of the chief executive officer only for the purpose identified in said settlement agreements.”

Izzo said during a January briefing with Wellesley’s Advisory Committee (see 3 hours and 14 minutes into the Wellesley Media recording) that the department doesn’t yet have plans for how it will spend the opioids settlement money, though emphasized the funds would need to be used for new programs to serve the community and not to fund or offset the budget.

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell last week announced a new settlement will bring another $8M to Massachusetts to address the opioids crisis.

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