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Two-thirds of opioid trust fund unspent

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(The Center Square) — The Pennsylvania Opioid Trust made progress in greenlighting county projects, but the majority of funds sent out since 2021 have yet to be spent.

“Having sent our money out in 2021, we still have only spent $70 million of the more than $200 million,” said Tom VanKirk, chair of the Pennsylvania Opioid Misuse and Addiction Abatement Trust during a Thursday meeting. “There is still a need to get the money spent as quickly as possible on proper uses.”

Counties, which will receive 70% of the opioid trusts available from a number of national settlements, will be granted extensions beyond the spending deadline due to slow rollouts and growing pains in administering local programs.

In May, the Trust approved a majority of the 400 projects proposed by counties, but a significant chunk needed more information or improvements before the trust would approve them.

To qualify for opioid money, projects need to adhere to the approved uses laid out in Exhibit E; money can’t be spent in ways that are solely for policing or community needs, for example, but must have some sort of opioid-amelioration connection. For many projects that couldn’t demonstrate a connection, the Trust categorized them as “still under consideration” and rejected a minority of them outright.

“In looking at this, we did not think it was fair to just say no, it is not compliant — or, on the other hand, without enough information, merely just say yes to it,” VanKirk said. “So we are going to send those back for further consideration.”

Philadelphia’s projects had stood out for lacking detail in its request for $11 million and got more vetting this time around.

“This was really the first time they had broken out the large block grants into mini-grants,” VanKirk said. “We do believe most of them will be approved, but we gotta treat Philadelphia like everybody else.”

A number of the city’s projects, like outreach and prevention activities to connect people to addiction services, provide wound care, and get them off the street, received approval. The city proposed several community events as well, such as funds for youth sports leagues and educational programs, which did not receive approval. Board members wanted to see clearer connections to opioid-related activities, even if they supported the idea behind the programs.

“Besides being a diversion into sports, will there be any educational component, any signs, any more of a connection to drug misuse?” said Robert Postal, a Mifflin County Commissioner. “Not simply well, we’re diverting people into better behavior. We have to respect the intent of Exhibit E.”

Elsewhere, some rural counties remain in the planning phases as others get approval and spend the funds. Forest County, one of the lowest-populated counties in the state, is still in the process of creating an opioid commission to send out funds.

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