WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the opioid epidemic is a problem that's only gotten worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the last year alone, we lost 5,172 Pennsylvanians," said Shapiro.
He made a stop at Greenbriar Treatment Center's Washington County outpatient facility Tuesday to discuss how treatment providers could use funding recently announced from a $26 billion nationwide opioid settlement.
Greenbriar's CEO Mary Banaszak said the facility has been overwhelmed with drug overdoses.
"It took a bad turn a couple years ago, and the turn hasn't gotten a whole lot better," said Banaszak.
Banaszak said Greenbriar is a 76-bed inpatient rehab that also offers outpatient and halfway houses around southwestern Pennsylvania. She said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the facility hard.
"We have not been able to treat the number of patients we wanted to treat. Patients were afraid to come into treatment and then on the other hand, paying people overtime to stay and work two shifts if I needed them," said Banaszak.
Therefore, she's hopeful funding from the recently announced $26 billion nationwide opioid settlement will help. The settlement was made with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three companies that helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic.
Shapiro said $1 billion will go to Pennsylvania, stressing that a portion of that begins next year.
"We talked a lot about the need for more staffing and to invest in the staff that they have," said Shapiro. "We need more physical infrastructure to both increase the number of beds available for treatment as well as making sure we upgrade the facilities."
Washington County President Judge John DiSalle, who runs the county's drug treatment court, said getting drugs off the street is part of it, but keeping people clean is where he believes the county will see the most success.
"You have to turn their life around in a complete way. Not only maintain their sobriety but having a job, continuing their education, doing community service," said DiSalle.
District Attorney Stephen Zappala filed a lawsuit over the summer saying there's no guarantee Allegheny County will get any money. Shapiro said it's not up to him but local government to divvy that money out.
Zappala's office released this statement Tuesday: "Although we asked, we were never invited to participate in this document which is unsecured and unguaranteed. We have evaluated several drafting weaknesses and problematic provisions with this document and interestingly, the Attorney General has yet to speak to this. The dollar amount has not yet been resolved, our rights are weak to begin with and there is no recourse."
Allegheny County's solicitor said they plan on participating and are currently in discussions regarding the settlement.
Mayor Bill Peduto's Chief of Staff Dan Gilman also released this statement: "We have been an active part of the legal challenge and commend AG Shapiro for his leadership. The horrific impacts of the opioid epidemic have been felt in cities across the nation. The use of the money from this settlement needs to be determined by those on the ground in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. We will continue our work with the Attorney General to quickly deliver needed support in the City."
Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan said the county will likely take advantage of the funds as well.
Shapiro's office said the deadline for local governments to sign on and for the allocation agreement to be reached is Jan. 2, 2022.
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