The exterior of San Jose City Hall
San Jose has more than $1 million in settlement funds to use to address the opioid epidemic, but advocates aren't enthused about how the money will be spent. File photo.

San Jose has received more than $1 million from opioid makers and distributors after major companies settled a lawsuit with cities and states wanting to hold them accountable for the opioid epidemic — but advocates are not happy with the proposed use of the funds.

Criminal justice and mental health advocates said the ongoing funds should go toward more direct treatment for those suffering from addiction driven by the opioid epidemic. Instead, most of the settlement money from companies such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart is going toward the purchase of naloxone — medication that quickly reverses an opioid overdose — training city workers on its use, nonprofit prevention programs and community awareness campaigns.

City officials said Santa Clara County has had a total of 798 opioid-related deaths since 2018, with 158 just in 2023.

“Immediate solutions are imperative,” community advocate Derrick Sanderlin told San José Spotlight. “One way to do drug prevention really well is to just address people where they’re at right now.”

Sanderlin added that intervention programs like TRUST, a non-police mobile crisis response program that connects people directly with services, can help address substance use.

People most in need of treatment are not likely to go to San Jose Police Department presentations on drug prevention, as outlined in the city’s framework, according to Jen Myhre, Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) senior organizer. She said such presentations should be done by non-law enforcement experts on drug abuse and prevention.

“There is a lot of unmet need in San Jose, and so it makes sense that a million dollars could be spent on saving lives,” Myhre told San José Spotlight. “We have been advocating for the right responder for the opioid crisis, but also the right experts for education efforts.”

Advocates also disagree with the city’s decision to create a full-time position using $68,000 in settlement funds that will mainly focus on connecting neighborhood services with neighborhood associations to address blight. That employee’s secondary responsibilities will be working on opioid overdose prevention efforts at the neighborhood level.

District 8 Councilmember Domingo Candelas said during a recent Neighborhood Services and Education Committee meeting that he would like some settlement funds to go toward the TRUST program.

Deputy City Manager Angel Rios told Candelas opioid settlement funds can only be used when there is a direct connection between opioid prevention and the services selected, and right now they city doesn’t feel TRUST meets that criteria.

“That’s totally bunk,” Sanderlin told San José Spotlight. “Mental health is one of the biggest things on the list that the funds can be used for.”

San Jose is awarding four nonprofits a total of $350,000 for opioid overdose prevention grants this year. Though the city’s plan mentions creating education materials related to drug treatment services, there is no mention of any funding going directly toward treatment facilities or infrastructure.

A city spokesperson said the nonprofits will use school-based substance use prevention groups, parent support and community-based adult training with naloxone distribution.

“The city’s opioid settlement fund focus is on staff training, prevention and intervention programs and community awareness and public education on opioids,” spokesperson Demetria Machado told San José Spotlight. “City staff will continue to prioritize high need areas and analyze data to take action to prevent overdoses.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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