The Lancaster County commissioners on Wednesday voted 2-1 to provide $193,000 in opioid settlement funds to the District Attorney’s office to fund two positions on the Lancaster County Drug Task Force.
As discussed at the commissioners’ work session on Tuesday, the money will cover compensation for the task force’s community prosecutor, who reviews cases for potential diversion into the county’s treatment courts and oversees the Pathways to Recovery program; and its evidence custodian, a detective whose duties include overseeing the Drug Take Back program and conducting drug education and awareness programs.
- Related: County commissioners consider allocating opioid settlement funds for Drug Task Force treatment court prosecutor, evidence custodian
Commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Josh Parsons cast the “yes” votes. Parsons noted that the allocation is the “last major piece” of the settlement spending framework developed by a work group last year.
The amount, however, is smaller: $193,000, versus the framework’s $275,000. That leaves about $80,000 unspent — the allocation of which will be a topic for future discussion, Parsons said.
Commissioner John Trescot cast the “no” vote, on the grounds he outlined at Tuesday’s work session: The settlement funds should be used to expand programs, not fund positions that already exist.
He also said he’s not convinced that everything the community prosecutor and evidence custodian do falls within the settlement’s guidelines for approved uses.
“Keep an eye on that,” he advised District Attorney Heather Adams.
Adams suggested that the allocation does in fact bolster county capacity, in the same way as the one approved for the Pathways to Recovery program: In both cases, settlement money is providing long-term, sustainable support for programs launched on a more provisional basis.
In this case, having a dedicated funding stream will allow the two individuals to focus on their core prevention and diversion objectives, rather than being pulled into other roles, Adams said.
On Tuesday, opioid policy researcher and advocate Gail Groves Scott had urged the commissioners to reject the proposed appropriation and instead put all settlement money toward front-line treatment and harm reduction. On Wednesday, in an emailed statement, she condemned the vote, saying it flouts expert opinion and puts the county at risk of having some of its funds clawed back for ineligible uses.
“I see today’s decision as playing a shell game with funds that should be used for services to the highest risk people, the ones most likely to overdose and die right now,” she said.
She said she is working with a multi-state network of advocates who are tracking jurisdictions’ use of settlement funds, and that Wednesday’s vote “will be noted.”