Recent news of the tragic overdose death of Philadelphia Flyers alternate captain Kevin Hayes’s older brother and fellow NHL player Jimmy remind us how the current opioid crisis affects individuals from all walks of life.

The sad fact is the United States is in the midst of a public health emergency that unfortunately shows no signs of slowing down. Deaths from drug overdoses reached a record of more than 93,000 in 2020, an increase of over 21,000, nearly a 30-percent increase over the near-record high in 2019. The 12-month trailing indicator ending in March in 2021 alarmingly shows that number is still growing, topping out at almost 99,000.  

This chaos at the border, which the Biden Administration freely admits is occurring, is a major factor driving these deaths. The Department of Homeland Security is not only allowing thousands of illegal immigrants to freely cross the southern border: by failing to police entry into the United States, they are also allowing illicit and dangerous synthetic opioids such as fentanyl to enter the country just as easily as the migrants. The results have been disastrous for millions of Americans.

Fentanyl, which can be 50 times more potent than heroin, has found its way into almost every level of the drug supply chain. It is often pressed into counterfeit pills or used to lace other drugs such as heroin or cocaine, leaving many users to unwittingly ingest it, with deadly results. That is why overdose deaths continued to climb in the United States even though prescription opioids in 2019 were dispensed at the lowest rate in 14 years.

Ending the legal, responsible, and limited prescribing of medically necessary opioids won’t stop drug overdose deaths. Enforcing meaningful border security will be an important start to ending the crisis, but addressing the lack of resources that is hampering efforts to end the opioid crisis will also be key.

Ending the legal, responsible, and limited prescribing of medically necessary opioids won’t stop drug overdose deaths.

Fortunately, there may finally be another way to end the crisis. Several entities from the pharmaceutical supply chain, including manufacturers and distributors, have come to the table with a landmark $26 billion settlement that will provide funding for quality, affordable treatment programs to states and communities around the country. Pennsylvania is slated to receive over $1 billion should all parties move forward with the deal.

As with any large settlement, there are complexities that must be navigated. While 44 states have signed on to the agreement, a number the companies consider to be a sufficient “critical” mass, the ultimate amount of funds distributed will depend on the number of city and local governments who join the settlement alongside their respective state attorneys general.

While Attorney General Josh Shapiro has touted the settlement as a great deal for the commonwealth, the district attorneys of the state’s two largest municipalities, Larry Krasner of Philadelphia and Stephen Zappala of Pittsburgh, disagree. Worth noting is the fact that this disagreement is not a partisan issue, as all the individuals involved in this legal dispute are members of the Democratic Party.

Messrs. Krasner and Zappala have joined together to sue Shapiro for accepting this settlement, accusing him of accepting less than he should have and for taking away their respective municipalities “right” to sue these companies directly. Should Philadelphia and Pittsburgh move forward with this lawsuit and ultimately opt out of the settlement, it will greatly reduce the amount of money Pennsylvania will receive. In effect, these cities could ultimately hamper the commonwealth’s ability to recover from this crisis or could jeopardize whether any money is received at all.

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A recent ruling in Oklahoma, a state that opted out of the settlement, shows what is at stake. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently reversed a lower court award of $465 million, arguing that “the district court’s expansion of public nuisance law went too far,” calling into doubt the validity of this legal argument underpinning legal claims by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  In effect these cities could ultimately hamper the Commonwealth’s ability to recover from this crisis.

There are clear policy solutions that can be adopted to end the opioid crisis gripping the Commonwealth and the United States, such as securing the southern border and obtaining access to much-needed funding for critical resources at one of the worst points of the opioid crisis. Achieving both will require collaboration between the federal government, law enforcement, state governments, and local governments. Let’s hope that the cooperation that can be achieved through this opioid settlement will be the start of those efforts and a template for future successes.

Earl Baker is former state senator and commissioner of Chester County.  He was the chairman of the Commissioners Association Human Services Committee.  While in the senate, he chaired the Labor and industry Committee.  He writes on business topics and remains active in the Chester County Chamber.

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