This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
When Lancaster County officials discussed ways they could use opioid settlement money, they identified their drug task force as a priority. They proposed spending $275,000 a year from the funds on it.
And after reaching out to the state oversight board that’s responsible for ensuring counties appropriately spend hundreds of millions of settlement dollars, they recently received a greenlight to do so. But the county’s plans remain unclear.
The action and uncertainty illustrate the ongoing debate — which is sometimes occurring out of public view — over how to spend Pennsylvania’s opioid windfall. Agreements with Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors are expected to bring about $1 billion to the state over 18 years, most of which will go to counties. Other opioid cases are expected to bring even more.
As Spotlight PA and WESA reported in April, some counties want to use opioid settlement money to help police officers make arrests. But a range of harm reduction and treatment advocates have raised concerns that such actions could crowd out more pressing needs, stray from the intended purpose of the opioid settlements, or perpetuate a war on drugs mindset.
“These funds were intended to help individuals start rebuilding their lives,” Jason Snyder, who advocates for addiction treatment providers on behalf of the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, told Spotlight PA.
He thinks annually using $275,000 to support the general operations of a drug task force is “far outside the spirit of what the settlement was intended to be.”