Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Why opioid funds may not reach those most in need

Plus, a Spotlight PA reporter explains why showing up matters.

We're almost halfway there. With just one day left in November, we're 47% of the way to our end-of-year goal of raising $125,000 in support of Spotlight PA's unrivaled investigative and public-service reporting.

Help us finish November strong and cross this big milestone by making a gift now and getting it matched as part of our #GivingTuesday match. 

Give generously today and your tax-deductible contribution will be DOUBLED. Still not convinced? Check out this column from Spotlight PA's CEO about how our nonpartisan journalism is getting results.

Thank you!

—Colin Deppen, Newsletter Editor
This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

November 30, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Syringe services, secret settlements, impasse harm, bird names, showing up, arms deals, mystery money, long distance, eviction filings, and union concerns.

Decades into Pennsylvania's opioid epidemic, it remains illegal to provide clean needles to drug users here, outside of select locales. 

As a result, harm reductionists in most of the state do this work in the shadows, risking arrest to prevent blood-borne infections with free stockpiles of alcohol wipes, tourniquets, and sterile syringes.

Pennsylvania expects to receive more than $1.6 billion in opioid settlement funds total, but the state’s ban makes it significantly harder for the money to directly support expanding syringe services in many places, Spotlight PA and WESA report.

Also this week, the legislature has quietly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years to settle sexual harassment and other claims. Many of the settlements include controversial secrecy clauses and other provisions that prevent public disclosure of the agreement.

Finally, as lawmakers continue to debate whether to fund parts of the state budget, people who run key programs around the commonwealth are being forced to make tough decisions.


"We never got that opportunity to pass hiking down through generations because we’ve been living in so many centuries of terror and lynchings."

—Anthony David Jr. on how he wasn't comfortable exploring state parks and forests while attending college in Harrisburg.

Support Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
We've been challenged to raise $125,000 by the end of the year as an unprecedented show of support for Spotlight PA's journalism that gets results.

Make a tax-deductible gift to Spotlight PA and ensure this vital work can continue in 2024. Put another way, without you, Spotlight PA ceases to exist.

Thank you to the 841 people who have given so far, including Michelle B., who said, "Journalism is important. Even more important is journalism that is not skewed to support bias in any way. I appreciate your commitment to true investigative journalism."

Join Michelle and make a gift now »

You can also give via PayPal or Venmo, or send a check to: Spotlight PA, PO Box 11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108.
» These Pa. birds will be renamed as watchers reckon with racism, inclusion

Showing up was crucial to unpack the complexities of developing old mine lands

When I joined Spotlight PA as the rural affairs reporter this summer, I knew I needed to show up in the communities I would cover.

That mentality brought me to rural Rush Township in Centre County on more than one occasion, where I looked for the orange and red waterways that mark the Moshannon Valley’s coal mining past, and talked to local officials about a proposed solar project on roughly 1,500 acres off Coaldale Road. 

It’s a 4-mile stretch where ATVs are commonplace, and winter maintenance is limited. The two brisk afternoons I spent there this fall confirmed the "martian in nature" landscape that was described to me by David Mason, the township's solicitor. Driving along the road and back into town, I realized just how many waterways and nearby banks have a reddish tint, which I had never noticed before.

A group of developers set their sights on the township, where about 3,700 people live, and announced their plan to build a 239-megawatt solar array last fall.

I recently reported on how the proposed project forced Rush Township to face its mining past.

I began working on this story in August after hearing about how the Moshannon Creek Watershed Association, which works to protect its namesake, had concerns about how the project — specifically its location — could deter existing efforts to reclaim abandoned mine lands. Waste from past mining activity, predominantly before stricter federal regulations took effect in 1977, can harm wildlife.

The watershed group attended some of the township supervisors’ monthly meetings to share their concerns about how the array — depending on its placement — could prevent additional testing and create a decadeslong wait for cleaner streams.

I also made multiple trips to the township building to speak with the supervisors, confirm public hearing dates with the township secretary and treasurer — who wasn’t always accessible by phone — and review meeting agendas posted on the front door. The township doesn’t currently have a website, so this information isn’t widely available.

I couldn't have reported this story over the phone or through emails. I had to show up. Going to Rush Township helped me connect with local officials and residents to hear about the proposed project, confirm specific details on ordinance language, and get information on future public meetings.

After hearing from people about tainted waterways running through their community, I wanted to see with my own eyes how coal mining — and abandoned sites — still affect the area today. And I realized that I had seen similarly colored streams throughout Pennsylvania before, but I never knew the underlying cause. Marley Parish, Spotlight PA

🏆 NEXT QUESTION: Did you stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: 2024 vision, snow droughts, impeachment court, and war machines
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaARMS DEALS: Pennsylvania has received more money than any other state as the federal government spends billions to arm Ukraine. Reuters reports: While three of the eight Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania have been voting against funding to help stop Russia's invasion, the Keystone State has received $2.364 billion to build arms and ammunition at factories like this one in Scranton.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaMYSTERY MONEY: Blair County's NAACP is investigating an anti-drug nonprofit that's soliciting money from the public and using it to fill a private bank account that's accessed by the county's district attorney with little to no oversight. WTAJ reports close to $300,000 in checks from the past 4 years have gone into the account. DA Pete Weeks is defending the arrangement. An audit is possible.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaLONG DISTANCE: Three Pennsylvania lawmakers cast several votes on state business nearly 8,000 miles from Harrisburg this month. PennLive (paywall) reports state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R., Montgomery), and Reps. David Rowe (R., Union) and Rob Leadbeter (R., Columbia) were in Taiwan on an economics-focused "legislative leave" that chamber leaders approved under a generous set of related rules.

EVICTION FILINGS: Looked to as part of the solution to a growing homelessness crisis, SRO (or single room occupancy) housing facilities are ramping up evictions in Pittsburgh, PublicSource reports. The outlet adds: 43 people, currently or recently living in three of the city's SRO facilities, have been subjects of eviction-initiating complaints this year — all brought by the same Florida-based property manager.

UNION CONCERNS: Unionized ProPublica journalists want the news outlet to stop publishing with the Post-Gazette until the Pittsburgh paper's strike is resolved. ProPublica's top editor told WaPo (paywall) that the outlet won't halt the public health-focused collaboration. And in a private email, that editor said journalists who access internal documents about the work without permission could be fired.

» AP: High court weighs GOP impeachment effort against Philly DA

» BRADFORD ERADA cleared of ‘rule violations’ by state board

» CNN: Pro-Iran group allegedly hacks water authority, feds investigate

» PENNLIVE: Tiny Cumberland County town faces fiscal nightmare

» WITF: Pa. county election officials react to mail ballot decision

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

ALL IN THE FAMILY (Case No. 232): A woman has an equal amount of brothers and sisters but each brother only has half as many brothers as sisters. What’s the correct amount of brothers and sisters total?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

If you missed the answers from last week's Thanksgiving edition, you can find them here.
Like The Investigator? Share it with a friend.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan & nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © Spotlight PA. All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box 11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You're receiving this email because you signed up for The Investigator. 

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.