Council allocates opioid settlement funds

Oak Harbor PD will hire a commissioned officer trained to address the local opioid crisis.

The Oak Harbor Police Department will soon be hiring a commissioned officer specially trained to address the local opioid crisis after the Oak Harbor City Council unanimously approved the department’s suggested allocations of funds the city will receive from an opioid-related court settlement over the next eight years.

Last year, the Washington state attorney general settled a lawsuit with companies that were found to have played a role in fueling the opioid addiction crisis prevalent in the state and across the nation. As part of the settlement, the city of Oak Harbor will receive nearly $1 million over the next 17 years.

The police department came to the Oak Harbor City Council meeting Sept. 5 with some suggestions on how to spend the first eight years’ worth of payments.

The department’s proposal hinges on three strategies for addressing the opioid epidemic that Capt. Tony Slowik presented to the council.

The first strategy, he said, is to continue offering and expanding law enforcement services. An increase in phone calls keeps officers busy, limiting the time they can spend on intervention and outreach programs addressing the opioid crisis.

The department requested $44,000 of the 2023 settlement payment, and 90% of the settlement payments the city will receive in 2024 through 2030 would hire a commissioned law enforcement officer that will specialize in prevention, education, enforcement, treatment and training related to opioid abuse and addiction. This officer will work closely with the department’s embedded social worker and Island County Human Services to interface with vulnerable individuals affected by the opioid epidemic and help them access medical and mental health resources.

The second strategy is to support the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit, which is the task force that covers the Oak Harbor area with relation to opioid problems. The department suggests allocating $21,000 to the task force in three payments of $7,000 a year over the next three years.

The third strategy is to divide the rest of the money into three separate funds. The first fund is a payment of 10% of the settlement payment each year through 2030 to the North Sound Region Opioid Abatement Council, as per a memorandum of understanding the city council signed earlier this year.

The second fund would cover administrative costs associated with opioid prevention, outreach and intervention programs and receive a one-time payment of $5,000. The third fund would receive $21,000 for future opioid mitigation strategies the city would choose to implement.

Council member Bryan Stucky asked why the department suggested hiring another law enforcement officer as opposed to a social worker or other civilian who might be less intimidating to vulnerable individuals in need of help. He also questioned what kind of training this officer would receive.

Police Chief Kevin Dresker told the council that when a police officer has the right training and the right temperament, someone in need of help may be more receptive to the officer than to a civilian. Slowik added that the person hired in this role will be an experienced officer and work with border patrol and the task force to understand local opioid trends.

The council passed the proposed allocation unanimously.