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The counties getting the biggest opioid windfalls

Plus, Pa. millionaire worked to overturn 2020 election.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, October 19, 2023
In today's edition: opioid money, Jordan votes, Bachenberg profile, budget update, medical deportations, and fighting the crowds in Jim Thorpe.

An analysis by Spotlight PA and WESA found wide disparities in opioid settlement payments to individual Pennsylvania counties.

For example: Payments for general county government and county district attorney offices equaled about $6.50 per resident across the state for 2022. But payments varied by county — from a low of $1.13 per resident in Centre County to a high of $23.23 per resident in Cameron County.

Read the full report: Which Pennsylvania counties are receiving the most opioid settlement money — and why.

THE CONTEXT: The payments are part of a $26 billion settlement — roughly $1 billion of which will be paid to Pennsylvania over 18 years — involving multiple states, Johnson & Johnson, and three major drug distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

Amid ongoing debates about how the money should be used, officials say the distribution plan here wasn't solely guided by population.

Need was measured by county drug overdose deaths, opioid use disorder-related hospitalizations, the number of naloxone doses administered by emergency medical services, and prescription opioids dispensed.

Other factors, including municipal buy-ins and roles in the original litigation, are also shaping the totals many counties are set to receive.

“I don’t know that we know what fair is and what fair should be,” said Steve Dershem, a Centre County commissioner. “We know that when there’s a dozen opioid deaths in our community, that’s a dozen too many.”


"It certainly points us in a direction of the underlying root causes."

—Penn Medicine's Benjamin Abramoff on a UPenn study linking reduced serotonin levels with long COVID symptoms like persistent brain fog
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Elk viewing on a recent trip to Cameron and Elk Counties, via Denise D. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A side-profile of a wild, antlered elk in grass.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.THE SEQUEL: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) has failed twice in his bid to become the next speaker of the U.S. House, losing supporters along the way. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly was the only member of Pennsylvania's Republican delegation to vote against Jordan and has pitched a plan to expand interim Speaker Patrick McHenry's powers, prompting a cryptic quote tweet from a Democrat in his backyard.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.
MAGA MAN: The Inquirer (paywall) has a deep dive on Lehigh County businessman Bill Bachenberg, who bet a fortune on Trump's stolen election claims and remains one of the most influential MAGA world figures that most Americans have never heard of. Those who know Bachenberg told the paper he used to be a traditional Republican but turned on those in the party he felt weren't angry enough.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BUDGET BILL: Incremental progress continues in the effort to finish Pennsylvania's state budget, now several months past due. The AP reported Wednesday that lawmakers "gave final approval to budget-related legislation that boosts Medicaid subsidies for hospitals and ambulance services," sending the bill to Gov. Josh Shapiro's desk. The boost comes as officials warn of a worsening statewide EMS crisis.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.PUSH THE PLUG: The Shapiro administration is touting the plugging of 100 abandoned oil and gas wells in the last 10 months, more than in the past six years combined, according to his office. Scores remain open after years of under-regulation, many leaking greenhouse gases. The state expects to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars to seal those wells, but some question whether the money is enough.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.DEPORTATION RULE: Philadelphia City Council is set to weigh a ban on medical deportations that would be first-of-its-kind in the U.S., Prism reports. The bill, introduced with five sponsors late last month, follows the forced deportation of an undocumented, comatose patient in Lehigh County in March. It would require Philadelphia hospitals to obtain patient consent for repatriation before taking any further steps.
STORE CLOSINGS: Rite Aid plans to close 154 of its 2,000 stores, 38 of them in Pennsylvania, USA Today reports, citing court documents related to the chain's recent bankruptcy filing. See if your store is one of them.

WEIRD DEER: An ongoing, decade-old study has tracked more than 1,200 deer in Pennsylvania to better understand the animals. It found strange sojourns and behavior and debunked old hunting adages.

CULTURE CORRIDOR: Around 7,000 Bhutanese refugees have made their home along Route 51 in western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh City Paper reports on the "unique food and culture" of the "Himalayan Highway."

ALPINE GETAWAY: Insider suggests a visit to the "Little Switzerland of America," aka Carbon County's Jim Thorpe, this fall. The author expected a sleepy mountain town but found it bustling, overwhelmingly so.

PROJECT LEAD: Penn State's $700 million Beaver Stadium redesign project has an architect: Populous, of Kansas City, which oversaw a 2001 expansion of the stadium and designed more than 1,300 others worldwide.
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