Pennsylvania Counties’ Use of Opioid Settlement Funds Revealed

Records obtained by Spotlight PA and WESA shed light on how Pennsylvania counties have utilized tens of millions of dollars in opioid settlement money. These records offer the most comprehensive insight to date into the allocation of funds intended to address the opioid epidemic, a crisis claiming thousands of lives annually in the state.

The opioid settlement funds have sparked debates on the most effective ways to utilize them. The spending reports, currently under analysis, reveal a diverse array of strategies adopted by counties across Pennsylvania.

These strategies reflect the multifaceted nature of the opioid epidemic, impacting various aspects of communities, including neighborhoods, correctional facilities, child welfare programs, and local agencies.

In central Pennsylvania, counties like Cumberland and Perry cited the threat of litigation as a factor influencing their spending decisions. Recent lawsuits have mandated county jails to provide access to federally approved medications for opioid use disorder. Cumberland County allocated approximately $586,000, while Perry County committed $105,000 to support this treatment program.

In Philadelphia, the city allocated $7.5 million to support residents in the Kensington area, described as living in a constant state of trauma due to a 24-hour open-air drug market.

Funds were directed towards various initiatives, including improvements in schools and parks, home repair, rent relief, and eviction prevention. The city justified these efforts by aligning them with the broader settlement strategy of “Prevent Misuse of Opioids.”

Chester County, in the Philly suburbs, directed funds to a range of programs, including allocating a small amount to Project Sticker Shock, aimed at preventing underage drinking. County officials defended this allocation by highlighting the link between underage drinking and opioid use.

However, some counties, like rural Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania, reported no expenditure of opioid funds by the end of 2023, despite receiving approximately $288,000. County officials cited a lack of suitable projects for expenditure.

The records, obtained through Right-to-Know Law requests, encompass spending reports from over 60 counties, the city of Philadelphia, and eight county district attorney offices. Some agencies reported not possessing the reports, with Bucks County attributing the issue to a technical glitch.

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