image

health as it happens

Editorial: In opioid addiction battle, no room for rivalries - TribLIVE

Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, has a deadly addiction problem that is getting worse.

Overdose deaths rose 29.4% nationwide in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 93,331 deaths were dominated by one category of drugs. Opioids claimed 69,710 American lives. It’s the kind of avoidable loss that would still be the unthinkable epidemic that has demanded attention for more than a decade — if it wasn’t being eclipsed by the coronavirus pandemic.

But even amid a global health crisis, you can’t lose sight of the problem on the doorstep, especially when developments like the recent settlement announcement from Attorney General Josh Shapiro arise.

Shapiro and other state attorneys general have been leading the charge against the drug manufacturers who have marketed opioid pharmaceuticals. They allege corporate bottom lines have been padded through the misrepresentation of their product as safe and nonaddictive when the opposite was known to be true.

Pennsylvania’s cut of the $26 billion settlement with McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmeriSource Bergen is supposed to be about $1 billion. That’s a lot of money, but is it enough to combat such a pervasive problem that affects areas like law enforcement, social services, health care, child welfare and more? It is only a sliver of the $11 billion the state was awarded in the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Not every county thinks so. Allegheny and Westmoreland are among them.

On Thursday, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. filed a complaint in Commonwealth Court to stop the state’s settlement, claiming it isn’t enough money to address the county’s losses and that Shapiro has no right to make deals on Allegheny’s behalf.

Westmoreland isn’t suing, but in 2019 it opted to pursue its own case with pharmaceutical manufacturers instead, alleging the county had laid out $19 million in addiction-related expenses in 2016 alone. Other counties are doing the same, including Allegheny. Zappala filed such a suit in February.

The question of whether Shapiro has the authority to act for the state’s 67 counties is a valid one.

But another issue might be that opioids aren’t the only addiction out there. Every hall of power seems to be haunted by another — the desire to be the winner and by extension make someone else the loser.

Pennsylvania needs money to fight the drug problems that are not disappearing, despite a death rate that dipped for a few years before the pandemic. There is a need for more treatment facilities, more support programs, more halfway housing. Child and family programs need money. So do jails and prisons dealing with problems, as well as hospitals and first response units.

Yes, these programs need the most money they can get. The best deal needs to be negotiated. What no one needs is petty squabbling over who gets the credit.