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Pasco County is taking proposals for how to use its opioid settlement funds

Pills outside of pill bottle
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media

Pasco County has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the state. Officials want to fund projects focused on prevention, treatment and recovery.

Communities across Florida are weighing how to spend millions of dollars that have come in so far from settlements opioid manufacturers and distributors made with the state. Pasco County is now accepting applications for community projects to address the crisis.

The county will use nearly $900,000 dollars in its new “Opioid Treatment, Prevention and Recovery Fund” to pay for the efforts.

“We’re just hoping to ensure that we're assisting those most impacted in our community by providing funding to organizations that have been actively engaged in the treatment, prevention and recovery efforts for that segment of the population,” said support services specialist Nicole O’Neill.

The most recent data ranks Pasco among the top 10 Florida counties with the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses.

The county has an opioid task force that has been meeting with the public to discuss ways to use the settlement funds and will make recommendations about which projects to fund later this year.

Increasing the number of treatment beds and expanding youth education are just some needs the community has identified, said Paula Barracaldo, Pasco’s director of support services.

The state also launched the expansion of the “Coordinated Opioid Recovery (CORE)” network in Pasco last fall. It helps emergency responders and health workers connect people who have survived a drug overdose with addiction treatment.

Continuing to support those efforts and funding innovative projects with the settlement money will hopefully bring the county’s overdose rates way down, said Barracaldo.

“It’s all about trying to capture the attention of the people that have not been engaged, providing treatment for those who are unfortunately already being impacted by substance misuse and then providing support to the organizations that are expanding those treatment opportunities so that they can continue to assist our community," she said.

"And hopefully some day we can look back at this and say that we did everything we could to do save the lives of those impacted by opioid use in Pasco County.”

Applications will be accepted through June 23. Interested groups were required to attend a virtual information session earlier this month.

Once the task force makes recommendations, the Board of County Commissioners will vote on how to distribute the funds.

This is just the first wave of Pasco’s opioid settlement money. Florida is poised to get $3 billion over the next couple decades, so communities around the state can expect millions more in the future.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.