York County begins planning how to spend $21M in opioid settlement funds

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County began outlining its procedures this week for how organizations can receive some of the proceeds from the nationwide settlement of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

York County will receive roughly $21 million over the next 18 years, according to county officials. That money will be used to address the fallout from the opioid crisis.

"I walked into this job in 2014 at the start of what we were seeing manifest as a heroin and opioid epidemic, never anticipating, even looking back, that it would impact us in such a way," said York County Coroner Pam Gay. "Both devastating families as well as the financial toll that it took on the taxpayers."

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The funds, however, create an opportunity.

"This is just the start of a way we can help the community heal," Gay said.

The York County Planning Commission will serve as program administrator, advised by an Opioid Advisory Board consisting of members appointed by the Board of Commissioners, which will make the final decision on grant awards.

"York County Coroner Pam Gay makes a point while appearing on a panel with David Sunday, chief deputy prosecutor for the York County District Attorney's Office, during a public hearing \"Heroin and Opioid Addiction, Treatment and Recovery\" at the Yorktowne Hotel Tuesday, August 18, 2015. The hearing was sponsored by Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency of the state general assembly. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com"

"The funding has to be used on a very specific set of activities that lead to further prevention, reducing the harm, increasing treatment and recovery services for opioid addiction," planning commission director Felicia Dell said Wednesday.

York County received its first payment and will receive its second in the next few months, Dell said.

Members of the Opioid Advisory Board include Gay, York and Adams County Drug and Alcohol Commission Director Audrey Glatfelder, Spring Grove Ambulance EMS Chief Jackie Heffner and Dr. Matt Howie, York County's newly appointed health strategist.

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Dell noted that the planning commission has experience in administering grants and funds, so the administrative process is relatively familiar.

The application process for funds starts by visiting the YCPC website's section on opioid funds at yorkopioidfunds.org and filling out an interest inquiry form. Organizations must then attend one of four informational sessions regarding grants and fill out an application between Feb. 1 and April 30. The advisory board will make recommendations to the commissioners, which will then approve funding in summer 2023.

"I believe we've got some funding now that can drive systemic change in our community," President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Wednesday.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler speaks during the Butterflies on the Lawn event at John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

York County first sued 25 drug manufacturers and distributors in 2017 for misleading and downplaying the risks of using opioids such as oxycontin, fentanyl and Percocet, becoming the fourth county in the state to do so at the time.

Commissioner Doug Hoke, who served on the board at the time, said the money would be important for helping organizations that work to help those with addiction problems.

"It's been a long time in coming," Commissioner Ron Smith said. "It's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people in the county."

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According to planning commission grants management specialist Caitlin Steel, $2.5 million will be available for the first grant cycle through Dec. 31, 2024. The grant cycle will run on an annual basis after that period, she said.

Steel said applicants may seek up to $350,000 for their respective projects.

C-SAU not addressed: For the second meeting in a row, no motion was approved regarding the county's contract with prison contractor Corrections Special Applications Unit.

Hoke, who also serves as president of the county's Prison Board of Inspectors, said the motion to "resolve" contract obligations with C-SAU was not ready, though he did not elaborate further.

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Warden Adam Ogle did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did C-SAU head Joseph Garcia.

The Prison Board of Inspectors unanimously recommended a vote by the Board of Commissioners on a motion at its last meeting of 2022. All three members of the Board of Commissioners are voting members of that board.

Joseph Garcia, who leads CSAU, in a promotional video he recorded last year for Tactical Life magazine in which he describes the group's tactics.

York County approved a two-year, $252,770 contract for "confidential training" at the prison by C-SAU, the second such contract with the group that offers training to prisons and jails. Shortly after that contract was approved, inmates at the prison sued York County, the prison and C-SAU over alleged abuses at the prison; that lawsuit is ongoing.

Garcia and C-SAU were ruled to be in default of that lawsuit last year. The head of the group has been called "the Bernie Madoff of correctional consultants" by a private investigator hired by Allegheny County officials who conducted a background check on Garcia; the Prison Oversight Board in that county would later vote to prohibit the jail from working with C-SAU.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is set for Jan. 18.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.