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Lackawanna County to decide on opioid settlement grants

Aimee Dilger
Lackawanna County holds opioid settlement fund committee meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. in the Government Center, 123 Wyoming Ave., Scranton.

Decisions on which organizations receive opioid settlement money from Lackawanna County are a few weeks away, officials say.

The $1.9 million pulled in to-date by the county from settlements with pharmaceutical companies, distributors and manufacturers must fund treatment programs or related initiatives. No settlement funds in Lackawanna have been spent so far, but plans submitted to the state’s opioid trust, which oversees spending, highlights the county’s future plans.

Lackawanna has three main priorities, said Barbara Durkin, Lackawanna/Susquehanna Drug and Alcohol director and interim Human Services director. About half a million dollars will go toward funding housing for people in addiction recovery, $250,000 is slated for treatment plans at the county jail and another quarter million will be dispersed in grants.

The county received 12 applications for opioid settlement payouts between March 28 and April 29, Durkin said. Applications to be paid for next fiscal year, starting in July, have not yet been discussed with a review team, so individual organizations have yet to be publicly identified.

“We're hopeful that we'll be able to fund many of them with a focus on expanding access to treatment services,” Durkin said. “And I think the jail is a big piece, and then obviously housing access.”

Medication-assisted treatment for people living with opioid addictions has expanded in county jails within the last two years, she said. Litigation may have accelerated that change, like a Department of Justice lawsuit that considered the experiences of Pennsylvania inmates.

“I think lawsuits have forced the shift in county correctional facilities to move in that direction,” Durkin. “There's case management staff that are [at Lackawanna County Prison] when someone starts on buprenorphine or methadone at the prison, and then is transitioned to the community. We're trying to provide case management services so that those folks remain on it when they get out.”

Officials in neighboring Luzerne County report spending about $450,000 for medication-assisted treatment at the county prison. To-date, the county has received more than $4 million from the settlements.

One of twelve requests

Durkin said groups requesting grants from the county won’t be made public until later this month. County grantors will then decide which of the twelve applicants will receive a share of Lackawanna settlement money.

Joe Van Wie, founder of Fellowship Houses, made his group’s bid for settlement funds public at a settlement spending meeting earlier this year. Fellowship recently rehabbed a home in the Green Ridge neighborhood of Scranton which operates as a sober living home.

“There’s a lot of great providers here doing really meaningful work from inpatient to other levels of care outside of us,” Van Wie said in an interview last month. “Every one of them can use resources, training and property improvements.”

Corporate treatment providers – what he called “large conglomerates” with shareholders – shouldn’t be front of the line to receive county settlement money. Van Wie hopes locally incorporated businesses or groups get grants first.

“I think there's a lot of Lackawanna County residents… that are doing really good jobs that need more support,” he said.

Fellowship Houses would ideally spend grant money to hire more staff, especially certified recovery specialists, and training sessions for more employees. Van Wie said stigma reduction and treatment are top of mind.

“[The opioid settlement money] is really unique,” he said, adding opioid manufacturers “lay waste to generations of people.”

“Let's try to at least, with a tear dropper essentially, drip back and see if we can solve the problem.”

Next meeting

Lackawanna County will hold its next opioid settlement fund committee meeting on May 14 at 11:30 a.m. in the Commissioners Conference Room 123 Wyoming Ave. in downtown Scranton. The public is invited to attend.

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
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