EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBREW/WYOU) — Recent data shows life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by nearly two years from 2019 to 2020.
While the pandemic played a role in data results, so too did the ongoing opioid crisis. Pennsylvania counties plan to address those disturbing numbers with the help of a sizable settlement involving three major opioid distributors.
“So like, Lackawanna is 1.393,” said Atty Frank Ruggiero, Lackawanna County solicitor.
That figure Ruggiero points out represents the percentage the county is receiving from a maximum $1.07 billion allocated to Pennsylvania. The funds are the result of a roughly $26 billion settlement the U.S. reached with the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.
“We were pleased obviously to start but it was a long road,” said Ruggiero in reaction to the settlement.
The settlement to the lawsuit launched in 2017 is based on four key metrics categories: Overdose deaths, opioid use disorder hospitalizations, naloxone administrations, and percentage of opioid shipments. It will result in more than $10 million alone for Lackawanna County’s fight against the opioid crisis.
“It’s not to say it’s all the money we need or that it’s enough money to address the problem. It’s not. It’s an ongoing problem,” explained Ruggiero
A problem that Ruggiero and Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell say has been met head-on in the county long before the legal settlement.
“We have great programs. They need to be sustained. I think we know what works particularly in Lackawanna County but they need to be sustained,” said Powell.
Powell says he would like to see the settlement funding used to bolster such county mainstays as drug enforcement and drug recovery efforts. But those efforts, he says, must include more than just getting someone with a substance use disorder into a treatment program.
“Like apartments and cars and transportation and jobs, all things that are designed to sustain someone in recovery and support them,” explained Powell.
He also recommends expanding efforts to distribute the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone throughout the county and support efforts to help county inmates dealing with substance use disorder.
“While they’re incarcerated and have a lot of time on their hands we know they’re drug-free. Why not give them the support and setup while they’re in prison so that they can succeed when they’re out of prison,” asked Powell.
But it’s not Powell’s opinions alone. The plan is to assemble an interdisciplinary team to determine where the opioid-fighting needs are, then fund those needs with settlement dollars.
“We’re going to have the district attorney’s office involved and D.A. Powell. We’re going to have our treatment professionals. We’re going to have our judges and treatment court personnel and we’re going to have our administration,” said Ruggiero.
“We can see what holes need to be filled in order to further support people in recovery and spend that money wisely as a collective group,” said Powell.
Lackawanna County expects the first of the money to arrive by the end of the year. The national settlement payments will be made for the next 18 years.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs website.