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Principles Coalition Announces Inaugural Winners of Award for Excellence in the Application of the Opioid Litigation Principles

February 22, 2023

Rock County, WI and the state of Colorado are the inaugural winners of the Excellence in the Application of the Opioid Litigation Principles Awards. These awards are designated by a coalition led by faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that developed a set of evidence-based guidelines, known as the Principles, to help policymakers use opioid settlement funds effectively and equitably.

More than 564,000 people in the U.S. fatally overdosed from prescription and illicit opioids between 1999 and 2020. As the crisis deepened, states and localities filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers, pharmaceutical distributors, and pharmacies for their role in these deaths and other harms. Funds from litigation settlements are directing hundreds of millions of dollars to states and localities to combat the opioid crisis.

To guide states and localities in spending these funds, faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health worked with partners across the country to create the Principles for the Use of Funds from the Opioid Litigation. Announced in January 2021, these concepts have been endorsed by over 60 organizations across the U.S.

The Principles are:

Principle 1: Spend the money to save lives.

Principle 2: Use evidence to guide spending.

Principle 3: Invest in youth prevention.

Principle 4: Focus on racial equity.

Principle 5: Develop a fair and transparent process for deciding where to spend the funding.

Details about how to apply the Principles and other resources for effective litigation spending are available at the website:

To recognize jurisdictions and encourage broad use of the Principles, a coalition of endorsing organizations is launching the Excellence in the Application of the Opioid Litigation Principles Awards. These awards will recognize jurisdictions that have demonstrated rigorous application of the Principles in their decision-making process, including a focus on evidence, equity, and transparency.

Applications for these nominations were opened in fall of 2022. A committee of the Principles endorsing organizations, including representatives from the Bloomberg School, Shatterproof, Yale Program of Addiction Medicine, SpiritWorks Foundation, and Partnership to End Addiction, reviewed the applications. The Principles Awards in Excellence will be given quarterly.

The Awards Committee found Rock County’s integration of the Principles to be particularly strong in several areas. As a starting point, the County formed a workgroup with members from

Rock County Public Health Department, Human Services, County Administration, and the Sheriff’s Office. The workgroup reviewed evidence-based literature and local data, and developed a rubric centered on health equity. The workgroup’s emphasis on community feedback to ensure a fair and transparent process encapsulates Principle 5. To accomplish this, they conducted a survey and held town halls to elicit input from impacted communities. These efforts were summarized in a set of recommendations, now under review, on how to best allocate opioid settlement funds.

The Awards Committee took note of Colorado’s early start in planning for expected litigation settlement funds. The Office of the Attorney General worked with governmental and nonprofit organizations, including the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, the Colorado Health Institute, Colorado Counties, Inc., and the Colorado Municipal League. In 2019, before the Principles were released, the Colorado Health Institute and the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention issued the Colorado Opioid Crisis Response Blueprint: A Guide for Opioid Settlement Investments.

Another key component of Colorado’s strategy was regional collaboration, detailed in the 2021 Colorado Opioid Settlement Memorandum of Understanding. The memorandum of understanding provided a framework for the disbursement of opioid settlement funds to 19 regions across the state, as well as local governments.

Colorado’s memorandum of understanding and blueprint exemplify Principle 2, as they provide a detailed roadmap of evidence-based strategies that Colorado regions can use to address the opioid epidemic.

“The Principles provide a flexible framework for state and local governments to use as they decide how best to spend dollars from the opioid litigation settlements,” says Sara Whaley, MPH, MSW, research associate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the coordinators of the Principles. “We applaud Rock County, Wisconsin, and Colorado for their commitment to using their respective settlement funds to saves lives using the framework prepared by leading organizations in the field of substance use.”

Nominations are currently being accepted from or on behalf of state or local governments that demonstrate robust application of the Principles. Submit nominations here. The deadline for the next quarter is March 31, 2023.