Millions of dollars will soon be coming to Chester County for the prevention and treatment of opioid use disorder. This follows a vote today by the Chester County Commissioners to approve the County’s participation in a national opioid lawsuit settlement between Pennsylvania communities, Johnson & Johnson and three pharmaceutical distributors.
The County will receive $15.5 million from the settlement. Permitted uses for the funds range from purchasing Naloxone and other FDA-approved drugs that reverse opioid overdoses, to medication-assisted treatment and prevention programs aimed at stopping opioid abuse before it starts.
“Frankly, for all the lives these companies have destroyed by aggressively marketing drugs they knew were addictive and deadly, the price they are paying is not nearly as high as it should be, but we agree with Attorney General Shapiro that it makes the most sense to accept this settlement so we can start putting these funds to work to further battle this scourge,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “I am especially interested in increasing the County’s support of prevention efforts.”
Those allowable prevention expenditures are largely built around public awareness and education campaigns to ensure the public understands the harm that can come from abusing opioids. Funding can also be used for community anti-drug coalitions that engage in drug prevention as well as collaborating with non-profits and faith-based communities to develop systems to support prevention.
Other allowable uses for the settlement funds are directed at treatment such as training more first responders, schools, community support groups and families on how to administer Naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose and to increase distribution of Naloxone to individuals who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover the needed service.
The money Chester County will receive is part of Pennsylvania’s $1 billion settlement, which is part of a national $26 billion agreement to resolve about 4,000 lawsuits against these companies. Seventy percent of the funds will go to local governments, 15% to a Commonwealth account and 15% to other litigating governmental entities.
The first installment of settlement funds should reach Chester County in late 2022.
“In addition to the funding we will target toward prevention and treatment programs, I was also moved toward agreeing to this settlement by the 10-year sanctions it includes against these companies,” said Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell. “For example, there will now be oversight and safeguards in place to prevent Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen from shipping suspicious opioid orders. And the agreement has effectively put Johnson & Johnson out of the opioid business. These are significant steps in battling the epidemic.”
Through the effective actions of the Chester County Overdose Prevention Task Force – which encompasses leaders in health, drug addiction and law enforcement – the County can claim one of the most comprehensive anti-opioid initiatives in the state.
Two major initiatives to emerge from the task force’s efforts are the County’s COPE program, a 24/7 warm handoff program that helps individuals who have suffered an overdose transition from the emergency room to treatment; and the Chester County Color 5K, an annual event which has helped to raise awareness of the crisis and more than $185,000 over six years to help fund the COPE program. The event also serves to reduce the stigma of being associated with substance use disorder.
“Our actions have shown this is an issue about which we care deeply,” said Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “Over the past several years we have devoted a tremendous level of heart, soul, and resources into helping address the opioid crisis for our citizens. In fact, as early as 2015 we focused on this crisis, increasing our efforts to fight the epidemic, and taking our own legal action against drug manufacturers in 2019.
“Our acceptance today of the terms of the settlement will reinforce those efforts. We realize that many people have become addicted, and many have died, simply because opioids were prescribed for them.”
As of the end of November, Chester County has recorded 74 accidental fatal drug overdoses.