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Valpo could explore using opioid settlement money to bring new 'care coordinator' to community

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Valparaiso City Council member Peter Anderson leads an opioid solutions forum with community experts on Jan. 17.

Valparaiso is set to get about $1.2 million dollars in opioid settlement money over the next several years. The city council held a forum Tuesday to help figure out what to do with that money.

Council member Jack Pupillo said a number of the friends he grew up with have died due to substance use issues. "It's just absolutely devastating," he said. And to think that this amount of money is what we get, it's a pittance for what it's caused. But we can put it to good use."

It was one of many personal stories shared during Tuesday's work session.

Valparaiso has a number of organizations to help people struggling with addiction. But even if people agree to get treatment, it can be a long wait before they actually get it.

Sam Burgett is a social worker with the Valparaiso Police Department. "I had a man at the emergency room — we were there for six or seven hours. Thirty minutes into our visit at the ER was when I realized that he was actually in withdrawal and needed to go to detox. It took me the next six hours to actually find a bed for him," Burgett said.

Getting into longer-term programs can take months. Bed space in halfway houses is in short supply, according to Respite House founder Mitch Peters.

"I think we could build two more halfway houses, probably, and fill them up pretty quickly — within two months," Peters said.

Valparaiso's $1.2 million settlement isn't enough to build or staff a new treatment center, according to emergency and addiction medicine specialist Dr. David Cummins. But it could be used to hire a new coordinator to work with the various agencies.

"That might be turning someone onto care. That might be connecting them to services that are already there that they already have connection with, helping them find a placement at a detox center — some kind of, for lack of a better word, care coordinator or social worker," Cummins explained.

Others hoped the new position could also help with prevention efforts and obtaining grant funding. Council member Peter Anderson said Tuesday's forum was the first step in a longer process of finding the best use for the city's settlement money.