Opioid Settlements: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Opioid Settlements: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Opioid Crisis

  • The opioid crisis continues with the fourth wave involving overdose deaths from fentanyl plus stimulants like cocaine or meth.
  • Drug makers and other players in the supply chain have agreed to pay over $50 billion to settle lawsuits related to the opioid crisis.

Concerns about the Opioid Settlement

  • Critics argue that the settlement amounts are too small compared to the damage caused by the crisis and that the money should go directly to individuals and families affected by opioids instead of governments.
  • There are concerns that the settlement money may be misused or misspent due to limited restrictions on its use and the lack of public reporting requirements in many states.
  • The tobacco settlement in the 1990s is seen as an example of how settlement money can be misused, with most states using it for unrelated purposes instead of tobacco prevention programs.

Lack of Transparency and Misuse of Funds

  • Many states have not been transparent about how they spend opioid settlement money, with some not even starting to spend the money after three years.
  • Some states are using accounting tricks to get around restrictions on how the money can be spent.
  • More than half of the money is going to local governments, who often lack the expertise to use the money effectively.
  • Advocates for people who use drugs say they are often excluded from the decision-making process about how the money is spent.
  • Some companies are marketing products to local governments, claiming that they can help solve the opioid crisis, but these products are often ineffective or overpriced.
  • Some local governments are spending the money on law enforcement, despite evidence that this does not reduce harm.

Vienna City Council's Decision

  • The Vienna City Council unanimously approved a request from the police chief to spend $113,000 from their opioid settlement fund to purchase a new police dog.
  • Three months later, the same council member returned to request the purchase of two midsize or full-size SUVs for the Vienna Police Department using opioid settlement funds.
  • Some council members expressed reservations about the lack of consideration in how the money was being spent and suggested a broader conversation about its effective use.
  • Despite these concerns, the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the SUVs.
  • The author criticizes the council's decision, arguing that the money should be used to alleviate the opioid crisis rather than on policing drug users.


  • States should be more transparent about how they spend opioid settlement funds and should focus on funding proven tools that have a real impact.
  • Citizens should get involved and advocate for real solutions by attending council meetings and asking questions.

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