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Purdue Pharma, which helped revolutionize the prescription painkiller business with its drug OxyContin, is proposing a path to emerge from bankruptcy that calls for it to be transformed into a public trust funneling profits into the fight against the nation's intractable opioid crisis.

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(The Center Square) – The Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday that the state will spend $3.8 million of its payout from a January settlement with consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to develop a statewide opioid treatment program.

“Iowa’s lawsuit alleged that McKinsey contributed to the opioid crisis by promoting marketing schemes and consulting services to opioid manufacturers, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, for over a decade,” the release said. “This is the first multistate opioid settlement to result in substantial payment to the states to address the epidemic.”

The office has partnered with University of Iowa Health Care UI Hospitals & Clinics, which launched its Opioid Addiction Clinic in 2017 to treat opioid addiction.

The opioid epidemic in the US has lasted more than 20 years, Clinic Director and Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine Dr. Alison Lynch said in a teleconference regarding the announcement. Efforts to reduce prescriptions for opioids have been successful, but people have turned to heroin and fentanyl, a high potency synthetic heroin, or fentanyl mixed with other drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine, she said.

The clinic uses medication-assisted treatment, which uses buprenorphine or methadone with counseling and therapy to treat addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Opioid overdose deaths increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and healthcare providers typically need specialized training to prescribe the drugs, the release said.

Lynch said she anticipates the statewide opioid treatment program will enable addiction specialists to train at least 200 healthcare providers across the state to incorporate buprenorphine and methadone. She said she has already trained about 200 people, including medical students and residents, at the University of Iowa.

UI Carver College of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for External Affairs and Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Gerard Clancy said in the conference that “really highly complex patients” will be cared for at the UI, via telephone or in person. He said they’ve seen “almost an epidemic of self-destructive behaviors” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes, 30% of patients in the emergency room are there for mental illness and addiction issues, and clinicians are exhausted and frustrated, he said.

“This program allows us to have a tool, something more that we can do for our patients … and it’s very important to the clinicians as well,” he said. “It provides them some relief, some tools to be able to help solve some of these really difficult problems.”

UI Health Care will collaborate with entities including state agencies, community mental health centers, harm reduction coalitions, healthcare collaboratives, county jails and medical societies, the release said.

Clancy said there are about 5,600 practicing physicians in Iowa.

“The more physicians that have MAT in their toolkit and can work with community partners to provide support for individuals with addiction and other mental health issues, the more lives that will be saved,” Lynch said in the release.

McKinsey & Co.’s total payment to Iowa, over five installments, is $4,677,279, the final consent judgement said.

Iowa Attorney General’s Office Communications Specialist Ashlee Kieler told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that the remaining $900k will be spent on opioid abatement strategies, but no specific spending decisions have been made.

Through the office’s contract with UIHC, Iowa will pay out the funds over five years, she said.

“The primary cost in the program is for three UIHC staff members who will be working on this project: an addiction physician (psychiatrist), a nurse/clinical coordinator, and an educational coordinator,” Kieler said.

In 2022 and beyond, Iowa anticipates more funding to “come from settlements with other companies responsible for fueling the opioid crisis,” the release said. 

Iowans seeking help with mental health issues and drug or alcohol abuse can find a list of MAT providers, counselors and other treatment options via a free program called “Your Life Iowa” at yourlifeiowa.org. They can also call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398.

This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.

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