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Local News

Cities facing opioid crisis

A green one-story building with stairs and a ramp approaching the front door.
New Life Clinic, a methadone treatment facility in Ukiah.

Ukiah and Fort Bragg outline their different approaches to tackling the epidemic of addiction within their borders.

Opioid addiction is hitting Mendocino County hard, with the highest number of overdose deaths per capita in the state. That includes the cities, where most of the services are located. The county and the city of Ukiah started receiving opioid settlement funds in November of last year. The county’s up- to-date amount is $1.4 million. Fifteen percent of that is in a subdivision fund, which the county can use to offset indirect harms like litigation against distributors and manufacturers, and healthcare expenses. The rest is in an abatement fund, for direct opioid remediation activities. That money has not yet been allocated, and there is no process in place for determining how to spend it.

Ukiah is the only incorporated part of the county that participated in the lawsuits and received settlement funds. By February of this year, it had received two payments each from the settlements with the distributors and with Janssen, the parent company of Johnson and Johnson. All four payments, which came out to a little over $68,000, were for the abatement fund. The City Council has not yet created a process for how to distribute that money, but it has committed a portion to repairing the heating and cooling system at New Life Clinic, a methadone treatment center that rents a city building on Standley Street. Estimates for that work have not come in yet.

In Fort Bragg, the Police Department is working under a $345,000 grant from a state and federally funded Youth Opioid Program. The grant, which the City Council approved in April of this year, pays to expand the department’s Care Response Unit to steer young people, including those who are currently in juvenile hall, toward treatment and rehabilitation.

Bernie Norvell is the mayor of Fort Bragg, which he says “missed the boat” on the settlement funds. But he’s proud of the new program, which targets 12-24-year-olds. “Anybody in that age group who is going through the court system with petty crimes, who also has an addiction, the judicial system has allowed us to intervene,” he said. “The judges are on board. The District Attorney’s on board. The Public Defender’s office is also on board, as well as Probation.” Norvell said two “success coaches” also work with clients in the school district. But “The big piece is, we are allowed in the jail system, whether it’s Juvenile Hall or the jail, and we meet with them and talk with them about recovery and detox. The judicial system has allowed us to give a day-for-day credit. So if they go to a 90-day rehab, it’s 90 days off their sentence.” He noted that, “We prefer that they do the six-month or even longer rehab. We’ve found that that’s much more successful.”

Further inland, Shannon Riley, Ukiah’s Deputy City Manager, estimates that Ukiah will receive about $300,000 from the settlements by the end of 2038. “From our perspective, we have two very successful substance abuse programs in Ukiah,” she said, noting that the Ford Street Program and the New Life Clinic “have been operating very successfully. Little to zero impacts on the neighborhoods around those facilities. They just have a great track record…our staff recommendations at the City of Ukiah will be to support those programs. The City of Ukiah does own the building that the New Life facility is in, and we have supported the Ford street program in various capacities over the years, through CDBG (Community Development Block Grants), and things like that.”

Riley added that the city has no plans to use any of the opioid settlements funds for non-opioid related purposes. However, unlike the county, the city’s budget is balanced, which means the city is not in need of one-time funds to backfill a deficit. “Our preference and our recommendation will be that 100% of those funds do go directly to the service providers in our community,” she reported. The question of how to disburse the funds has not come before the City Council yet, but she said, “I think if we have a formal request, then certainly that would solicit a public discussion.”

Bernie Norvell, the mayor of Fort Bragg, may have a chance to administer opioid settlement funds. He’s currently the only candidate for the Fourth District Supervisor seat. “So the public has to be involved,” he said. “Because it’s affecting them as well. But I think what’s important is you have to look at what is working, versus what we have already done that hasn’t worked, expand on what is working, and improve that. And then listening to the experts. Everybody has an opinion. But listening to people who are in the field, and work in it. They are the ones that tell you what’s working and what’s not.” He believes the Fort Bragg Police Department’s Care Response Unit and Project Right Now programs can be scaled up to the county level. “Project Right Now is just one aspect of the CRU,” he said “But I absolutely believe it could. The City of Anaheim is doing something very similar to what we’re doing. Our Chief of Police does communicate with them, and they share ideas…It absolutely could be scaled up, and it should be scaled up.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.