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AP: Families, advocates want more say in $40B opioid settlements

Ryan Hampton, founder of the Voices Project, poses next to the 2022 Mobile Recovery National Bus during a stop in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 7, 2022. Across the country, people in recovery and relatives of those killed by opioid overdoses are pressing for roles in determining how billions in opioid settlement money will be used. That push is one of the missions of the monthlong nationwide bus tour. (AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli)

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Geoff Mulvihill, Kavish Harjai and Samantha Hendrickson teamed up to tally total opioid settlements in the U.S., then used the start of that spending to anchor a story around families and advocates seeking a voice in how the money is used.

Leveraging his extensive knowledge of opioid litigation, New Jersey-based state government reporter Mulvihill worked with Los Angeles data reporter Harjai to arrive at settlements — both proposed and finalized — of more than $40 billion so far. That number was broken down in a graphic showing the estimated amount for each state.

Mulvihill and Ohio reporter Samantha Hendrickson — who,like Harjai,is a Report for America corps member — then sensitively interviewed advocates and affected loved ones on the front lines of loss, delivering a forward-looking story on how the settlement money might be spent and who gets a say in those decisions. Many fear they won’t be heard on the state-level panels recommending or deciding on the use of the funds.

The piece was published the same day advocates went to Washington for the White House Recovery Month Summit,where they met with Doug Emhoff,husband of Vice President Kamala Harris,and others. Photographer Carolyn Kaster made images of an advocacy bus tour outside the White House; Sacramento’s Rich Pedroncelli had photographed the tour at California’s Capitol two weeks earlier.

Mulvihill also put together a tip sheet with the state-by-state data, resources and suggestions to help AP member newsrooms localize the policies and processes around this ongoing nationwide story for their readers.

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In photo at left, actor Danny Trejo signs the 2022 Mobile Recovery National Bus during a stop at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Sept. 7, 2022. Trejo spoke at the recovery rally telling the crowd about his past problems with drug addiction. In photo at right, Douglas Emhoff, far right, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, and Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, visit the bus parked in front of the White House in Washington, Sept. 23, 2022. Applauding in background are Courtney Allen and Joseph Green, both organizers for Mobilize Recovery. Allen and others were in Washington to give their recommendations for the distribution of funds as billions of dollars in opioid lawsuit settlements start flowing to state governments. – AP Photos / Rich Pedroncelli (left); Carolyn Kaster
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