CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island will soon begin to distribute millions of dollars in financial help to those impacted by the opioid epidemic, according to the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).

EOHHS Acting Secretary Ana Novais recently approved the allocation of $20 million in opioid settlement funds for the 2023 fiscal year.

In a statement, Novais said the EOHHS is “ready to act immediately to get these dollars into the community to save lives.”

The settlement funds are the direct result of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha’s efforts to hold opioid manufacturers, distributors and consultants accountable “for the role they played in creating and fueling the opioid crisis in the state.”

“This is an unprecedented time for Rhode Island’s overdose response,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “We simultaneously have a worsening crisis that requires our significant response – but thankfully, now more resources than ever before to help our communities.”

Neronha settled the last of his office’s lawsuits against opioid manufacturers back in March, garnering an additional $107 million in cash and free medications.

In total, Neronha’s office has amassed nearly $190 million in settlement cash and nearly $80 million-worth of Suboxone pills and Naloxone nasal sprays.

Courtesy: Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ (EOHHS)

Provisional data from the Office of the State Medical Examiner reveals there have been 158 accidental overdose deaths so far this year, with a record 435 deaths reported the year prior.

“Behind every one of those numbers is a family,” Neronha said. “It could be a child, whether they’ve lost a loved one or they themselves have lost their lives.”

The EOHHS considers six different focus areas when recommending how the settlement money should be prioritized, including $6 million for prevention, $4.5 million for harm reduction, $3.45 for social determinants, $2.8 for treatment, $2 million for recovery and $1.25 for governance.

The EOHHS recommendations still need to be finalized through the state’s procurement process, meaning none of the money has been distributed yet.

“This is only the beginning,” Neronha said. “Twenty million [dollars] is a lot of money, but there’s still much more to come … to address this critical problem on the ground in a meaningful way.”