Haverhill Councilors Vote 6-1 to Create Fund to Distribute Opioid Settlement Money from Drug Firms

Christopher Sicuranza, chief of staff to Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill City Council gave its approval this week to the establishment of an Opioid Recovery and Remediation Stabilization Fund—in essence, an account for payments from the state to be used in the battle against opioid addiction.

The state’s Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council, responsible for distributing money from a national settlement with drug manufacturers, determined Haverhill will receive payments totaling just under $320,000 by 2031. The pharmaceutical companies are alleged to have pushed opioid painkillers adding to the addiction crisis.

To date, Chris Sicuranza, chief of staff to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, said the city received three payments totaling just under $198,000.

“What this money is designed to do is felt every day, I think, across the work that we do here in the city and the people we try to serve. We take it very seriously that there are people who are in need especially with regard to addiction recovery services,” he said.

In addition to the money, the state included a list of ways the money can be spent, such as by having communities pool their resources to increase their impact.

It was that portion of the motion that became a sticking point for City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua. He expressed concern certain state suggestions might actually be requirements. He considered two in particular—a syringe service program and potential housing for opioid users in local neighborhoods—as potential red flags.

Sicuranza responded the order before the City Council does not obligate the city to any particular program, but the city is required to create the account to receive money.

“These are not specific programs that I am announcing at this time. This is just revised guidance from the state where it starts with the fact that we have to create this special budgetary fund so as to even use this money. So, if you vote ‘no’ on this, to be clear, we’re giving back all of the opioid money,” he said.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan joined Sicuranza in noting any money spent from the account still must be approved by the Council by at least a 6-1 vote.

Ultimately, councilors voted 6-1 to establish the account with Bevilacqua opposed and Council Vice President John A. Michitson and Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski absent.

In a separate matter, councilors voted 7-0 to approve a request by Bethany Community Services to modify an existing sewer easement at 100 Water St.  The action is necessary to advance the development of a new 48-unit senior rental housing project.

The new housing project, which will be known as Merrimack Place, will be adjacent the Bethany’s existing senior housing community, Merrivista.

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