NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — More than $2.3 million is coming to seven Northeast Tennessee counties to help combat the opioid crisis.

The funds from court settlements with drug manufacturers, distributors and other defendants are the first to be distributed directly to counties by the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council.

Dr. Stephen Loyd chairs the council. The Jonesborough native spoke by phone to News Channel 11 Friday. He said the payments started going out to counties Thursday and that he has high hopes for the impact the funds can make. He also provided an update on a larger portion of settlement funds that will be distributed through a competitive grant process later this year.

“They’ve got a group of county mayors that do talk with each other,” Loyd said of his home region. “I talked with them together at dinner recently about how you can actually look at using these funds from a regional perspective.”

Dr. Stephen Loyd chairs Tennessee’s Opioid Abatement Council, which will oversee distribution of about 70% of the state’s opioid settlement funds. (WJHL photo)

The direct payments, largely based on counties’ populations, represent 35% of the total that will be disbursed in the state for this fiscal year.

Sullivan County is getting the most regionally at $735,949.15, with Washington County getting $530,036.46. Greene, Carter and Hawkins each will receive between $255,000 and $333,000.

Funds can be used for treatment programs, medication assisted treatment, recovery supports and prevention measures.

The money comes from settlement agreements reached with various drug companies, distributors and others who have been sued for the roles they are alleged to have played in exacerbating the country’s opioid epidemic.

The remaining money will be distributed to various projects statewide that apply through a competitive grant process. Additional funds will come in over a period of 18 years, though this year’s $103 million is likely to be the largest annual amount. Loyd said McKinsey, a consultancy alleged to have helped Purdue Pharma get around efforts to limit the number of opioids it distributed, paid its money in a lump sum.

The settlement money isn’t the first funding that’s come into Northeast Tennessee to help opioid abatement and prevention efforts in the last couple of years. Federal American Recovery Act money and some “Baby Doe” settlement funds have gone toward regional efforts in recent months, including contributing to a regional treatment center soon to open at the former penitentiary annex in Roan Mountain.

“If you think about how many people are, say, in the Washington County jail that have a substance use disorder but live in Sullivan County, or Greene County, or Carter County, you know this issue crosses county lines up in Northeast Tennessee,” Loyd said. “I hope the leaders are going to make a concerted effort to focus their dollars.”

The council will disburse even larger funding amounts through a grant process. The group meets Monday, at which time he said he hopes they’ll finalize a workable application and scoring system.

“If all goes well, we hope to have that application available for download by May 1,” Loyd said. “I want to be accepting applications by July 1.”

The competitive funds won’t be bound by region. Whatever groups bring forward the strongest, “evidence-based” programs to treat substance use disorder, prevent it or mitigate its harm will get the money.

Loyd said his top goal is preventing what he called “system deaths.”

“Those are the deaths that we can stop by changing our system to increase access to care,” he said. Loyd noted that when he grappled with drug abuse 19 years ago, he got the very best help available, largely because he was a physician.

“It’s personal, because I know the effect it’s had (good treatment) on my family and I want that for every Tennessean.”

He said the grant process will be completely transparent.

“There aren’t things going on behind the scenes, money that’s been appropriated already. That hasn’t happened, and that’s one of the things I love about working in Tennessee because … everything we do is sunshine, and I think that openness needs to be there.”

Loyd isn’t a patient guy when it comes to seeing impact from the council and its funding resources, though he said he knows much of the impact will take years to develop.

“I do want to see access very early on,” he said. “I want to see an access to care early on that people notice, ‘hey it’s easier to do this, it’s easier to do that, it’s easier to get this question answered, it’s easier to know this.”

Former Attorney General Herb Slatery told the 15-member council its work was “setting up a system of care for the next two to three decades in the state of Tennessee,” Loyd said.

He said no amount of money can “make people whole” who have lost family members.

“That’s irreversible. I think what we can do is honor those lost by how we appropriate the money going forward.”