Delegates choose panels to help distribute opioid settlement

Mar. 30—MOULTRIE — South Georgia delegates voted Tuesday to approve slates of nominees for two commissions that will help determine how the state spends more than $600 million it will receive from the recent opioid settlement.

Georgia entered into a memorandum of understanding with three pharmaceutical distributors of opioid products, Dave Wills, executive director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, told the assembly at the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex. The MOU guides the formation of the Georgia Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee and Regional Advisory Councils in each of six regions in the state.

The MOU provides for $517 million that will be paid over 18 years and another $121.7 million that will be paid over nine years, Wills said.

"So, there's a reporting requirement," Wills said. "... So, this is not 'Send me the money, I spend it how I want to and nobody questions.'"

If an entity gets funded, there's going to be scrutiny to make sure the funds are spent like they should be spent according to the MOU, he said. The MOU includes a long list of potential uses regarding opioid prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction.

The money will be awarded as grants that organizations must apply for. Wills said counties, cities, hospitals or other treatment organizations are eligible, but they must provide the opioid-related services described in the MOU. He said most cities and counties aren't in a position to provide those services so, in his opinion, treatment organizations are more likely to receive funds.

An organization seeking a grant will be able to apply at an online portal. Beth Brown, director of administration and operation at the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said Gov. Brian Kemp and Kevin Tanner, director of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, will make an announcement about the portal next week.

From there, the grant request will go to the Regional Advisory Committee for the area the organization operates in. If the RAC approves it, it goes to the Georgia Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee, or GOSAC, which will consider it along with other requests from across the state. GOSAC will forward its recommendations to the director of the DBHDD, who will have the final say on how the money is disbursed.

Delegates at Tuesday's meeting approved a slate of seven nominees for the Region 4 Regional Advisory Council: Jack Paulson from the Lanier County Board of Health; Dana Glass, the chief executive officer of Aspire Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services in Southwest Georgia; Gene Scarbrough, the sheriff of Tift County; Karen Dasher from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Valdosta State University; Jewana Lower, program director of the Bainbridge Treatment Center; Marlisa Nixon from the Albany Area Community Service Board; and Judge Victoria Darrisaw from the Dougherty Judicial Circuit Superior Court.

With the successful vote, the slate of nominees became the RAC for Region 4, which includes Baker, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Calhoun, Colquitt, Cook, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Echols, Grady, Irwin, Lanier, Lee, Lowndes, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Turner, and Worth counties.

GOSAC will consist of eight members. The non-voting chairman and three members were appointed by the governor and another member by the Georgia Association of Community Service Boards. The remaining three nominees are being voted on by delegates at six regional meetings; Tuesday's meeting in Colquitt County was the fifth.

Delegates at Tuesday's meeting approved the proposed slate of Betty Cason, the mayor of Carrollton; Clay Davis, chair of the Spalding County Board of Commissioners; and Edward Reynolds, the mayor of Bainbridge.

Votes from all the meetings will be tallied to determine the actual nominees.