AUGUSTA — City councilors say they want to more urgently put hundreds of thousands of dollars to use from opioid settlement funds.

That urgency, though, is tempered by their desire to make sure the money is spent carefully and effectively.

The city has about $532,000 in the bank so far from Maine’s $230 million settlement with pharmaceutical companies over their distribution of highly addictive opiates. Councilors could vote this week on creating a local committee to make recommendations on spending the funds.

Courtney Gary-Allen, an at-large Augusta city councilor, is also a member of the state Maine Recovery Council. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“People are dying right now,” said At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen. “There are citizens of Augusta who are struggling with substance use disorder right now, and organizations are going to close, right now, so it’s like how do we both make ethical and thoughtful and considerate decisions and also get this money into the hands of people who can help other folks as soon as possible?”

Last week, Augusta city councilors discussed a proposal to form a local committee — including people with life experience and expertise with substance use disorder — to make recommendations to councilors on how to spend the city’s share of the money, which is estimated to total $450,000 in 2024.

Gary-Allen, who is also a member of the 15-person Maine Recovery Council, said that statewide panel will determine how to best use the funds to fight the impact of opioid addiction across the state. The Recovery Council is charged with determining how 50% of the settlement funds Maine expects to receive over the next 18 years should be spent. The state Office of the Attorney General will determine how another 25% of the funds will be spent, and the remainder will be distributed to municipalities and counties across the state.


She called the funds “blood money” and said they’re meant to help abate the opiate crisis and the harm it continues to cause.

Augusta City Councilor Kevin Judkins of Ward 2 speaks during a council session on Jan. 21, 2023. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Judkins said the severity of the substance-use disorder problem demands that the money should be spent carefully and with accountability for results. He expressed concerns that past efforts by the city to fight substance-use disorder have been inadequate.

“Whatever the process is, I’m concerned about oversight and accountability,” Judkins said. “I know we’re running a program through grants right now here in the city of Augusta and … I’ve got to be honest, I have been left questioning the results for the money that was spent. It feels very anemic, the true impact. We need to make sure this gets to the right people and is really used to prevent those deaths and do what it’s supposed to do, instead of just creating jobs for folks, or an organization. I really want to see some results out of this, that it really works.”

City Manager Jared Mills said the city currently has about $532,000 “in the bank” from the settlement, from funds distributed in 2022, 2023, and thus far in 2024.

Councilors could vote as soon as Thursday to form a committee to make recommendations to the City Council on how to spend the funds.

Mayor Mark O’Brien speaks at Augusta City Center in 2022. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Mayor Mark O’Brien and others agreed, however, the city should not wait for the committee to be formed before using some of the opioid settlement funds to hire a mental health or social worker. That person would work with police when they respond to calls involving people who may have substance-use disorder.

For months downtown business owners have complained that a trouble-making group of transient people, some of whom are homeless, have been harassing people and scaring shoppers and others away from the downtown area. They’ve said drug use among some of them appears to be prevalent, with some shooting drugs in public areas and on business’ private property. They’ve asked the city for help, including increased police patrols, though some have said resources could be better used hiring a mental health or social worker to help.

O’Brien said adding such a position was discussed as part of the annual budget process and that most councilors seemed to agree the city could use some of its opiate settlement money to pay the estimated $65,000 to $80,000 in salary and benefits adding such a position could cost. Mills said the city could start the process of filling such a position as soon as Thursday if the council approves an order.

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