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Luzerne County steers away from $1M opioid misuse ad campaign

Attendees watch the Luzerne County Council meeting Tuesday in overflow seating. Many supporters and volunteers of the Luzerne County Fair turned out in-person for a vote on ARPA funding for the event. Council removed a vote for opioid settlement funding.
Tom Riese
/
WVIA News
Attendees watch the Luzerne County Council meeting Tuesday in overflow seating. Many supporters and volunteers of the Luzerne County Fair turned out in-person for a vote on ARPA funding for the event. Council removed a vote for opioid settlement funding.

Luzerne County Council declined to vote on a plan to fund a nearly $1 million advertising campaign with local Nexstar stations using opioid settlement money. The decision Tuesday means the county will need to find a new use for the funds or return the sum to the state by the end of August.

Councilmember Brian Thornton, who motioned to remove the vote from the agenda Tuesday, said he learned from County Manager Romilda Crocamo earlier that day that county human services had no formal contract with WBRE/WYOU, of Nexstar Media Group.

“If anything it was more of a handshake deal,” he said after the council voting session.

Thornton said Councilmember Jimmy Sabatino explained an ad campaign intended for a young audience wouldn’t see the messages. None of them watch cable TV, he said.

“They’re all on Snapchat and TikTok,” Thornton said.

Though County Council expressed approval during the June 25 work session, Thornton said the Nexstar messaging campaign seemed “too light.” If the county moves forward with a public service announcement series using opioid settlement dollars, Thornton said he’d want content that would scare teenagers from using drugs.

He detailed one of his ideas that would depict a young woman heading to prison with older inmates looking on. Thornton said a campaign needs to make an impact — that’s not what he saw in Nexstar’s proposal.

Luzerne County has just over seven weeks to reach an Aug. 31 deadline to spend more than $1 million. Then by the end of 2024, the county must spend an additional $1.5 million or reimburse the state.

The county is expected to open applications to the community through a request for proposal or RFP later this month, according to Drug and Alcohol Director Ryan Hogan. It’s unclear how much County Council will dedicate to the approved projects.

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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