Opiods. Photo credit: County News Center

County elected leaders and behavioral and public health experts Friday set the dates for three future planning sessions to determine how to use expected opioid settlement funds from Purdue Pharma to address opioid use in the county.

While the county has not received any settlement as of yet, county leadership is expecting “upwards of $100 million” as early as this year. San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher and Supervisor Joel Anderson intend to lead the three planning sessions — scheduled for Aug. 10 and Sept. 6 and 7.

These meetings will feature people “who interact with those who live with addiction, such as emergency room doctors, harm reduction advocates and individuals with lived experience,” a statement from Fletcher’s office read.

On Oct. 4, an additional hearing on the findings from these meetings will be held and later that same month, Fletcher and Anderson will present a plan to the Board of Supervisors for how to spend the money.

“In San Diego County over the last couple of years, this Board of Supervisors has been more aggressive and is moving faster to strengthen our strategy and tactics to address the fentanyl and opioid crisis,” Fletcher said. “But there are still too many families who suffer a tragic loss of life because of addiction. The money from the settlement, if spent on best practices, will make our response even stronger, and help to save lives.”

According to county records, in 2020, San Diego County saw 462 fentanyl-related overdose deaths — a 202% increase in one year, from 151 recorded deaths in 2019. In 2021 more than 1,000 San Diegans died from opioid related overdoses, a 16% increase from the year prior. The county’s deaths related to opioids have increased year over year for more than a decade.

“Sadly, many of our community members have lost loved ones to this epidemic,” Anderson said. “I am hopeful through investments by the county in addiction treatment and services we can prevent these tragedies.”

San Diego County is among the leading plaintiffs in a legal action against Purdue — the manufacturer of Oxycontin. Fletcher first discussed the possible settlement funds during this year’s State of San Diego County address.

“We need to make care for addiction as normal and as accessible as any other kind of health care,” said Dr. Luke Bergmann, the county’s behavioral health director. “This will mean heading in new directions and will require sources of revenue that allow for creativity and flexibility; the opportunity in these opioid settlement funds cannot be overstated.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hernandez, director of the county’s public health services, said she welcomes the acceleration of programs the funding could provide.

“We have a public health crisis and our team is ready to sit down with the community and discuss how these opioid settlement funds can lead to new and innovative approaches to saving lives,” she said.

City News Service contributed to this article.