Pinellas seeks public's input on opioid settlement funds (2024)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Pinellas County is asking the public to weigh in on how more than $90 million in opioid abatement settlement funds should be spent. That can be done through an online survey or by attending upcoming listening sessions.

What You Need To Know

  • The public can let Pinellas County know how they'd like to see $90 million in opioid abatement settlement funds spent

  • The county is offering an online survey and holding listening sessions in June

  • The executive director of the Recovery Epicenter Foundation said he'd like to see the money invested in initiatives aimed at prevention and recovery support resources

  • Funds are meant to be spent during an 18-year period

“It really is for anyone that has been impacted by the opioid epidemic, friends or family members that have been impacted, or just concerned citizens that want to provide input,” said Karen Yatchum, Pinellas County’s Director of Human Services.

The opioid epidemic has plagued Florida communities for years, but Pinellas has been hit particularly hard. A report released by Project Opioid last year said that while Florida saw a 2.6% decrease in drug fatalities in 2022, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties saw death rates 40-56% higher than the state’s. It noted Pinellas had the second highest overdose rate in the state, at 56.5% per 100,000.

For years, William Atkinson has been on the front lines of the fight against opioids in Pinellas County. He’s the executive director of the Recovery Epicenter Foundation. Atkinson said they were able to share good news this week.

“Just yesterday, we announced through the statewide revival day, the first reduction in number of deaths in over a decade,” he said.

Yatchum said there were 496 opioid-related deaths in the county last year, down from 597 in 2022.

“It really is nice. It shows validation for the type of work that outreach peers are doing, but any death is too many,” said Atkinson.

The $90 million in abatement funds, to be used during the next 18 years, is meant to save even more lives. Yatchum said the county has hired consultants with Ernst & Young to take a look at what services are available and take the public’s suggestions into account.

“Looking at prevention services, looking at treatment services, looking at residential services, and they’re really going to help with all of this input, tell us what we really believe should be funded with these settlement dollars,” Yatchum said.

Atkinson said there’s traditionally been a lack of funding for prevention services and for resources to support people through recovery. He said more peer respite centers are among what’s needed to fill a gap in care.

“On top of that, helping people get to the next stage, which would be affordable housing that’s recovery-focused and allow them to start actively becoming self-supporting,” Atkinson said.

He said investing in employment opportunities is also important.

“We stigmatize people who have a past, and it makes it way more difficult for them to ever overcome or to have a different result. So, they’re never able to financially support themselves after they have done their time for whatever crime they committed,” he said. “Employment opportunities is another opportunity for us to invest this type of money, and if we did this, and if we did this in a real, altruistic way, we could end up at the end of 18 years with more than the $90 million we put in.”

Yatchum said the gap analysis being conducted by Ernst & Young started May 1 and is expected to take 16 weeks. After that, they’ll present their findings to the county and its Opioid Abatement Funding Advisory Board. The county will then start the procurement process for programs and services.

Listening sessions are being held at the following locations:

Tuesday, June 18

Largo Historic Feed Store
295 Central Park Dr.
6 - 7:30 p.m.
(Spanish Interpreter Available)

John Geigle YMCA
4550 Village Center Dr.
Palm Harbor
6 - 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 19

Hispanic Outreach Center
621 Franklin St.
1:30 - 3 p.m.
(Spanish Interpreter Available)

Barbara S. Ponce Library
7770 52nd St. N.
Pinellas Park
5 - 6:30 p.m.
(Spanish Interpreter Available)

Lealman Exchange Community Center
5175 45th St. N.
6 - 7:30 p.m.
(Vietnamese Interpreter Available)

Thursday, June 20

CAP/Union Academy Family Center
401 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
Tarpon Springs
6 - 7:30 p.m.
(Spanish Interpreter Available)

Neighborhood Family Center
900 North Dr. MLK Jr. Ave.
6 - 7:30 p.m.
(Spanish Interpreter Available)

Friday, June 21

Suntan Arts Center, Don Vista Building
3300 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach
6 - 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 22

Seminole Rec Center
9100 113th St.
10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Greater Ridgecrest Branch YMCA
1801 119th St.
1 - 2 p.m.

Pinellas seeks public's input on opioid settlement funds (2024)


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