Credit: HAngelica -

In the past 10 years, nearly 1,000 county residents died of accidental opioid overdoses. In compensation, the county’s cut from a nationwide settlement extracted from the pharmaceutical industry — worth $4 billion — for deceptive advertising practices, promoting a public nuisance, and the chronic, systemic, and terminal oversight lapses is $22.2 million. Aside from an advance payment of $4.2 million, this amount is to be doled out in smaller increments over a 15-year period.

This Tuesday, the county supervisors heard a detailed report as to what that money will be used for. Three hundred thousand dollars will go to expand the carrying capacity of the Santa Barbara Sobering Center from its current seven beds to 10. Another $600,000 will be spent increasing the number of sober living beds operated by the Department of Behavioral Wellness from 12 to 25. 

Roughly $1 million will be spent annually increasing the county jail’s capacity to provide medically assisted treatment, or MAT, an acronym that’s become shorthand for methadone. That will cover the additional costs of purchasing the drugs and hiring two additional staff for Wellpath, the private jail health-care provider the county is currently contracted with. 

Slightly more than $1 million a year has been earmarked for homeless outreach and engagement services that will be provided by Good Samaritan — the largest shelter and drug detox and rehab operator in the county. 

The supervisors were told that the income stream generated by this settlement should also prove helpful in leveraging state and federal grants. The supervisors joined the multi-district lawsuit brought against a large handful of the major pharmaceutical companies in 2019; that litigation settled in December 2022, as a global solution to more than 3,000 individual public-nuisance lawsuits brought by various state and local government agencies. 

Of the 439 overdose deaths reported in Santa Barbara County between 2021 and 2023, 307 involved the use of opioids. While the number of accidental opioid deaths associated with lax and profit-driven prescription schemes has dropped in response to major lawsuits such as the one involving the County of Santa Barbara, the number of deaths involving fentanyl overdoses have skyrocketed. But for the widespread distribution and administration of Naloxone, the number of overdose deaths in Santa Barbara from fentanyl would have been far greater, by as much as 2,000 more. 

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