After being authorized by legislation that the General Assembly passed in 2021, the state’s Opioid Abatement Council met for the first time on July 8th to get organized and begin putting to work the funds Tennessee will be receiving from lawsuits and settlements to abate the opioid epidemic. The council is chaired by Dr. Stephen Loyd, a medical doctor who himself is a recovering addict from opioid addiction. Dr. Loyd was the former director of the state's substance abuse services division for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. He is now the chief medical officer for Cedar Recovery.
The council includes two county representatives appointed by TCSA: Judge Shayne Sexton and Ms. Lisa Tipton. Opioid Abatement Council appointees are required by statute to have at least ten years of experience working directly with substance misuse or its impact on the criminal justice system. Judge Sexton is a criminal court judge for the 8th Judicial District serving Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott, and Union Counties. Having overseen the recovery court for that district for many years, he also serves on the Tennessee Drug Court Advisory Board. The second appointee, Ms. Tipton, is the executive director of Families Free in Northeast Tennessee. She is a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor with over 25 years of social work and leadership experience. She has worked extensively with recovery courts, reentry programs, NAS or drug-exposed infants, and many more programs for individuals struggling with substance use disorders and their families. She was appointed in 2019 to Governor Lee's Criminal Justice task force subcommittee for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
During its first meeting, Attorney General Herbert Slatery and members of his staff gave a detailed outline of the status of litigation and settlements as well as the legislation that established the council and its responsibilities. Tennessee has already received some funds from litigation, and these will be held in a trust until the council authorizes their use. In addition, the first installment of funds from the major settlements with Johnson & Johnson and three large drug distributors is expected to be received this summer. Of those specific settlements, 15% will be distributed directly to local governments and 15% to the state. The remaining 70% must be spent on opioid abatement and is under the council's direction. Of those remaining funds, 35% is reserved for counties to draw down and use for approved opioid abatement strategies in their communities.
One of the most important things the council did during its first meeting was confirm the appointment of Mary Shelton as its executive director. Ms. Shelton is currently the Director of Behavioral Health Services at the Division of TennCare where she provides end-to-end oversight of all mental health and substance use disorder Medicaid benefits for 1.4 million TennCare beneficiaries, including annual expense management of $500 million. She directs the design, implementation, and operations of TennCare’s statewide buprenorphine and methadone Medication Assisted Treatment programs which serves 12,000 TennCare beneficiaries annually. Ms. Shelton oversees behavioral health and primary care integration efforts and the value-based payment programs for multiple provider-level programs. Ms. Shelton has worked for the State of Tennessee for more than 26 years, serving Tennesseans at both the Division of TennCare and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. She has her undergraduate degree from Tennessee Technological University, graduate degree from Trevecca Nazarene University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health at East Tennessee State University.
Ms. Shelton will fully transition into her new role with the Council in early September.