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Michigan county ‘hit ground running’ with opioid plan. Then came the complaints

Pastor Heather Boone standing in the street
Pastor Heather Boone of Monroe County has helped treat opioid addicts for years. She disagrees with the county’s decision to spend opiate treatment money at the county jail. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)
  • Monroe County won praise for assembling a task force and quickly deciding how to spend its opioid settlement money
  • But the county’s decision to expand its jail diversion program has received criticism from some in the recovery community
  • Some say the money would have been better spent on treatment assistance

MONROE — Here in Michigan’s southeastern corner, Monroe County was among the first in the state to spend its opioid settlement money.

While most other counties had yet to spend a single penny of the $725 million coming to Michigan governments, Monroe acted fast. It assembled a task force, plotted a strategy to combat the drug crisis and pushed several hundred thousand dollars into eight programs within a month of the first funds arriving in county coffers last year.

“We wanted to hit the ground running,” said county administrator Michael Bosanac.

About these stories

Michigan is set to receive $1.5 billion from a national settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors. Bridge Michigan interviewed more than four dozen experts, community leaders and researchers. Many expressed worries that Michigan has not set up enough oversight of how the money is being spent.

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Has the opioid crisis hit your family? We seek Michigan stories

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On Feb. 28, Bridge reporters and experts will discuss the drug crisis and how Michigan governments are spending the $1.5 billion coming the state’s way. Learn how to sign up here.

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For help with opioid abuse, call the SAMSHA National Hotline, a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year, treatment referral hotline1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Soon afterward, though, Monroe became one of the first counties in Michigan to face pushback. Some opioid programs didn’t get money, and advocates accused the county of focusing too much on law enforcement instead of treatment and recovery.

What’s happening in this county of 155,000 on the Ohio border is a preview of what likely will be a years-long tension across Michigan, as local providers, law enforcement, courts, social services and others jockey for a bite of the opioid settlement funds headed to Michigan over 18 years.

“Just because this money is awarded, doesn’t mean you have an open checkbook,” said Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough. “There’s going to be frustration … Do you give everybody $20 that wants it?”

In all, Michigan is set to receive about $1.5 billion, and counties and some municipalities will receive almost half as much from a national settlement of numerous lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies accused of downplaying the risks and ignoring the perils of prescription painkillers, fueling a nationwide opioid crisis.


In Michigan, local jurisdictions have broad latitude about how their share of money will be spent. Making the most of the unparalleled windfall is critical to lessening the crushing toll of opioids in a state where on average someone dies of an overdose every three hours.

Monroe County will receive $10.5 million over 18 years, and Goodnough said county officials opted for tried-and-trusted programs to abate a drug crisis that killed an average of 44 people per year in the county from 2016 and 2020.

Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough posing for a picture
Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough said the best strategy for deciding how to spend opiate settlement money is to build on existing services. (Courtesy photo)

Last year, county commissioners focused their first allocations  — $234,376 of $338,000 last year — on a jail-based program that ensures newly released inmates have access to housing, transportation, mental health and other services in the first days following an inmate’s release. 

Those are crucial days, Goodnough said, and it’s easy for an inmate to flounder without a place to stay, eat, and get mental health or substance abuse services.

“Our job is not just to incarcerate and hold accountable,” Goodnough told Bridge Michigan. “It’s to make sure we give (inmates) the tools of rehabilitation.”

The jail-based program required the hiring of two staffers, and it additionally set aside a one-time expense of $36,500 for a vehicle for the program.

Soon after making the funding allocations, commissioners posted details of the spending plan, along with background information on the county’s website within weeks of receiving the funds.

That won kudos from some who say Michigan has been lackluster in providing details on its opioid settlement spending. Unlike most other states, Michigan is only publicly disclosing how the state settlement dollars — not the local ones — are spent. 


Monroe officials “understood the urgency of spending the funds and the need for transparency,” said Amy Dolinky who, as technical adviser at the Michigan Association of Counties assists counties in how to spend the settlement money and tracks it for the association.

Others argue the money was spent too fast and without the input from those who worked the front lines of recovery.

“It's not that they're not well-intended…They don't see the things that we see,” said Randy Richardville, former Senate majority leader in Lansing and now executive director of the Oaks Village in Monroe, a campus that include a homeless shelter, food pantry, medical clinic and space for daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

It’s here that people with addiction wander in for shelter, food, treatment and other help, he said.

Richardville called the jail effort a “mainstream program” that misses the nitty-gritty needs at the front lines of recovery. Additionally, the jail program and the accompanying vehicle expense left frontline providers with little to nothing to take care of the people who walk through their doors, he said.

Narcan boxes in jail
On a recent day, 38 of 127 inmates in the main Monroe County jail were on some form of medication assisted treatment. Narcan, which reverses overdoses, is within quick reach at the intake desk, too. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Trish Burgess said she would have had plenty to tell the commissioners had she known about the discussions.

“They didn’t ask me. They should have,” said Burgess. 

Now in recovery, Burgess remembers the overwhelming pull of opioids — a sickness so powerful, she said, that she faked prescriptions and stole money from an elderly woman.

It was an addiction so unrelenting she at times vomited pills, only to ingest them again.

“I was a horrible person,” she said.

Trish Burgess standing next to a bed in a shelter
Trish Burgess, a former user who is now in recovery, volunteers at a shelter in Monroe. She said spending discussions about the opiate settlement should include the voices of people who have lived through addiction

In addition to housing and transportation, users need child care so they can make it to counseling meetings and medication assisted treatment, she said. And they need peer recovery coaches — people who have survived addiction and are helping others — throughout the community to help those in recovery navigate services.

The county also allocated $35,375 to support Mobile Recovery Clinic, a medical clinic housed at the Oaks where inmates and others can get some basic medical attention. The clinic also provides Vivitrol injections which, like suboxone or methadone, is part of a medication assisted treatment.

That the Oaks didn’t receive funds directly is another slight in a long fight with the city and county, said Pastor Heather Boone who helped found the programs.

“I'm fighting in this community for this community,” Boone told Bridge. “I'm begging for help.”


Instead, she said, the Oaks got “nothing.”

Boone is stepping away from her post this spring. It’s the feeling, she said, that system-level, government-run programs will continue to pull resources from those working in the trenches and, worse, from those who need the services.

And after officiating dozens of funerals over the years in Monroe, many of them opioid-linked deaths, “I have no hope,” she said.

“I broke down not too long ago,” she said. “I said ‘I can't do another overdose. I can't because physically I can't look at another (grieving) mom.’”

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