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Opioid settlement funds: Millions still unspent in NEPA

Aimee Dilger

**Updated May 6:

Applications for opioid settlement funds could soon open in Lackawanna County, a move announced by committee members at this month’s meeting.

Groups and businesses in Lackawanna will be able to request money to provide housing or treatment for people with opioid use disorder. Barbara Durkin, the county’s drug and alcohol director, said while housing remains a priority, the committee will let other entities apply when Lackawanna opens a standard “request for proposal” period that will last 30 days. Durkin said she’s hopeful that the process will begin in mid-April.

Both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties have not spent the majority money received from settlements with opioid distributors and manufacturers. The inaction required the counties, which have received more than $6 million in payments since 2022, to file an extension with the state’s Opioid Trust this month.

States and counties across the country will bring in billions over the next 18 years in multiple settlements over several companies’ roles in the opioid epidemic: Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan and pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

Representatives from Fellowship Houses, a recovery group, attended the Lackawanna opioid settlement committee meeting last week. Though founder Joe Van Wie said he knew a few members of the group, he said he introduced himself because his recovery organization plans to apply for settlement funds when applications are open.

Fellowship Houses runs several outpatient sober living homes in Lackawanna County. The group recently rehabbed a home in the Green Ridge neighborhood of Scranton. The building on the corner of Sanderson and Green Ridge Avenues cost $3 million to convert into a 22-bed facility. Fellowship said it will apply for county settlement money to “defeat debt” from the building upgrade.

Lackawanna and Luzerne counties will receive the most in settlement payments in Northeastern Pa. over the next 18 years. To-date, Lackawanna has received three payments totaling $1.9 million. Luzerne now has over $4 million from the settlement.

Ryan Hogan, Luzerne County drug and alcohol administrator, said an opioid committee has yet to be fully formed, so there have been no meetings yet. While the county recently appointed John Lombardo of county council to serve on the group, it will still need to appoint a citizen member. Hogan said he believes Luzerne will use “a typical ABC application and interview process by Luzerne County Council when appointing applicants to Authorities, Boards, and Commissions (ABC).”

Municipal and Poconos spending

Carbon County received over $718,000 as of December, and spent $55,800 on a tri-county billboard and messaging campaign with Monroe and Pike counties, according to a campaign roll out in December. Carbon Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said an upcoming committee meeting on Friday could bring more plans to the forefront, but he did not share additional information on Monday.

Certain cities, boroughs and townships in Luzerne County will also earn a separate share of opioid settlement payments, as they also signed on to lawsuits. Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Kingston, Nanticoke, Hanover Twp. and Fairview Twp. were all expected to receive between $42,000 and $62,000 over the last two years. Communities such as Edwardsville, Exeter, Forty Fort, Plains Twp., West Pittston, Wilkes-Barre Twp., Wyoming and Wright Twp. were slated to be paid $16,900 so far.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's All Things Considered. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.

You can email Tom at tomriese@wvia.org