Health and Human Services

Changes to opioid fund usage advanced

Rules governing a fund that contains state settlement dollars related to the opioid crisis would be modified to allow grants to local public health programs under a bill given first-round approval Feb. 21.

Sen. Tony Vargas
Sen. Tony Vargas

Under LB1355 as originally introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, the state Department of Health and Human Services would be required to establish three programs to aid local entities working to address the state’s opioid problem: local public health departments, law enforcement and health care facilities.

The bill also would authorize transfers of $4 million annually from the Nebraska Opioid Recovery Fund, beginning in fiscal year 2024-25, to fund the programs. No more than 10% of funds appropriated could be used for administrative costs.

Vargas said the grants would provide more resources to address a “serious health crisis” in Nebraska and are in line with recommendations from the Opioid Settlement Remediation Advisory Committee, which determines authorized uses of the state’s settlement funds.

Of the 175 overdose deaths in Nebraska in 2022, he said, 60% had at least one potential opportunity for intervention.

“This statistic stands out to me when we truly think about the cost of not getting these dollars out [to people who need help],” Vargas said.

Grants could be used by local public health departments to facilitate prevention efforts, education and training related to opioid harm remediation and data tracking. Awards to local law enforcement could be used to facilitate problem solving courts and for opioid and fentanyl first responder training.

Finally, grants provided to local health care facilities could be used for opioid treatment, data tracking, support for individual recovery and rehabilitation and opioid use prevention.

A Health and Human Services Committee amendment, adopted 37-0, replaced the bill. As amended, LB1355 would award $3.5 million to DHHS to administer the original grant program, but would house the law enforcement grant program with the Drug Control Division of the Nebraska State Patrol rather than with local law enforcement agencies.

A minimum of $500,000 of the $1 million annual appropriation to the NSP would be used for a corrections transition and re-entry aid program. The amendment also would appropriate $2.5 million to DHHS for proportional disbursement to the state’s behavioral health regions for opioid prevention and harm reduction.

The amendment also would add the provisions of two other bills. LB1325, also introduced by Vargas, would allow pharmacists and local public health departments to distribute fentanyl strips as prescribed. LB1320, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Beau Ballard, would require emergency medical services to report patient overdose information.

The provisions of LB1320 would require that EMS providers who treat or transport an individual experiencing a suspected overdose report the incident within 72 hours to DHHS for submission to a national overdose mapping program. Such information could not be obtained by law enforcement or used for a criminal investigation or prosecution. An EMS provider who makes a good faith report under the bill’s provision would be immune from civil or criminal liability for making the report.

Ballard spoke in favor of the bill and the amendment. He said mapping of overdose data can help the state discover patterns, coordinate responses and allocate resources where they are most needed.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln also supported the bill, but raised a note of caution. Lawmakers need to pay close attention to proposals that use settlement funds, she said, to ensure that money is swiftly moved to “frontline” programs that directly address Nebraska’s drug problem.

“Those funds come [to the state] because Nebraskans were harmed,” Conrad said. “We need to make sure that those dollars are going to their best and highest purposes.”

Following the 37-0 adoption of a technical amendment offered by Vargas, senators voted 40-0 to advance LB1355 to select file.

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