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About a month ago, a major lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company was laid to rest and, as a result, Montana became the recipient of a sudden $9.5 million windfall.

The state’s decision to use that money to create a trust to fund grants for mental health programs is an excellent one. Montana has long lacked adequate mental health services and resources, and while this money will not plug every hole in the dam, it will help keep more Montanans in need from spilling through the cracks.

Last week, in a meeting with the Missoulian’s editorial board, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said that his office’s settlement with Eli Lilly & Co. came at an opportune time to provide some relief for communities who have seen the need for mental health services increase at the same time they are facing budget cutbacks.

For that same reason, Bullock said, he would like to see the entire

$9.5 million dispersed within the next year-and-a-half to two years. First, he explained, former Supreme Court Justice John Warner, whom Bullock appointed to oversee the trust, will form a seven-person committee to provide advice as to how the money should be distributed.

The settlement itself is the result of a lawsuit brought by then-Attorney General Mike McGrath in 2007 against the makers of Zypreza, a prescription drug intended to help people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, the Attorney General’s Office in Montana, among other states, alleged that the company was pushing the drug for other, unapproved uses. A similar allegation brought by the federal government was settled last year.

It was a smart move on McGrath’s part to bring a separate lawsuit on Montana’s behalf, and a smart move on Bullock’s part to set up a mental health trust. 

Now, the trust needs to operate with the utmost efficiency so that the costs of running it don’t eventually eclipse the amount of its funding.

Communities across Montana, including Missoula, can help by gathering front-line staff – from social workers to police officers, from the local health department to the local hospital – together to create a comprehensive snapshot of the most critical needs and underfunded services in the area. And it’s something they can begin doing now.

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