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Wichita, Sedgwick County pooling opioid settlement funds to address opioid crisis

OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. The global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company has agreed to a $573 million settlement over its role in the opioid crisis.
Toby Talbot
OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. The global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company has agreed to a $573 million settlement over its role in the opioid crisis.

Wichita and Sedgwick County are the first city and county in Kansas to pool their funds from the opioid settlements.

The City of Wichita and Sedgwick County are pooling money they will receive from opioid settlement funds in order to strategically distribute the funding throughout the area.

In a request for proposal, the local governments are looking for an agency that will create a strategic plan for how to distribute an estimated $15.5 million from the settlements over the next 13 years.

“Our goal with this RFP is to be able to inform the commission and the council, the best way to spend that money to have the biggest greatest impact on the opioid problem,” Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman said.

In the proposal, the city said the governing bodies are looking for an applicant that has knowledge of best practices in addressing substance use issues, public sector planning, as well as knowing the challenges in addressing addiction in urban and rural communities.

“I think one of the things that we hoped for out of this strategic plan is some advice on how do we focus our expenditures?” Kaufman said.

“From my perspective, some needs to go for prevention, some needs to go for intervention; what's the right ratio? Is it smart to spend on both? Those are the kinds of questions that we hope to get some help and guidance with through the strategic plan.”

Applicant proposals are due by early September, and the city said it hopes to have a bid approved by the council and commission by October.

In the Kansas Fights Addiction Act, the use of the funds are outlined for prevention, reduction, treatment and mitigation of the effects of substance misuse and addiction.

The act also allows for the pooling together of funds by city and counties in the state. Wichita and Sedgwick County are the first to do so.

Actually getting the combined funds into the hands of community groups that are combating the opioid crisis is still a ways off.

“We got some work to do before we get to that point,” Assistant City Manager Donte Martin said.

Sedgwick County is disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis. Between 2012 and 2021, 1,023 people died in the county. That’s almost double the 583 deaths in Johnson County during the same time period.

The city and county wouldn’t commit to publicly reporting how the funds will specifically be used, but said they will be transparent in how the funds are distributed by making all disbursements be approved by the governing bodies.

“I don't want to commit to a process that we haven't designed yet,” Martin said. “But the plan is to go before the city and having worked with Tim at the county, I would assume the same is to have an open and transparent process.”

The city and county have both already distributed some of their funds from settlement money received so far.

For the city, most of those funds have gone to the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition (MHSAC) and to Safe Streets to allow them to distribute naloxone kits in overdose hotspots.

The county has also spent part of its funds on helping the MHSAC operate and an awareness campaign for youth. The county also paid $315,000 for a new mass spectrometer for the Regional Forensic Science Center. The spectrometer helps the center test substances that end up there.

Settlement funds will also pay for the strategic plan developed by whomever the governing bodies approve.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.