The Luzerne County Drug and Alcohol Agency plans to purchase fentanyl test strips

During a recent budget presentation, Luzerne County Drugs and Alcohol Administrator Ryan Hogan told the county council his agency wants to buy and distribute fentanyl test strips now that they’re legal and said they could help reduce overdose deaths .

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1393 earlier this month, which amended the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972 to no longer define fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia.

The state health department said 78% of the 5,343 overdose deaths nationwide last year involved fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid nearly 100 times stronger than morphine. Without a test strip, it’s “nearly impossible” for drug users to know if fentanyl is present because it’s undetectable by sight, taste and smell, the department said.

The small strips of paper can detect the presence of fentanyl in pills, powders and injectable medicines.

As of October, the county had 126 confirmed drug overdose deaths and another 16 awaiting toxicology test results, according to the most recent report from the county department chief.

Another program Hogan’s agency is planning for 2023 is a law enforcement treatment initiative developed in collaboration with the county’s Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Attorney’s Office, he said.

At the time of arrest, law enforcement has an opportunity to contact the county’s Drug and Alcohol Division when someone is charged with a minor, low-risk felony that is directly related to a substance use disorder. Hogan’s agency would promptly investigate and get the perpetrator treated. Law enforcement agencies then have the option to drop the charges if the offender meets all treatment requirements for a specified number of months.

Another new agency program being tested with Lehigh Valley Hospital in Hazleton will allow emergency room physicians to prescribe a 30-day supply of Suboxone to patients with opioid use disorders, Hogan said. The district would cover the cost of this drug-assisted treatment for up to 30 days and would send a board-certified recovery specialist to connect the patient to outpatient drug and alcohol treatment services, he said.

The county board has already instituted a community-based certified recovery specialist program that allows trained attorneys with “living experience” to meet with people struggling with a substance use disorder when they are seeking hospital care who may be at the time of arrest or admission in contact with law enforcement are the opioid overdose antidote Narcan from an emergency room physician, Hogan said.

Hogan said his agency is heavily involved in determining how the county will use opioid trial funding under the standards.

The district is expected to receive $25.4 million in compensation from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and wholesalers that will stretch over the next 18 years, officials said.

Hogan said the district received its first allotment of $1.04 million in September and expects to receive an additional $1.8 million next month.

Council chair Kendra Radle said she would schedule a briefing solely on settlement finance at a future working session.

budget details

Hogan and other Human Service Division managers presented their budget proposals last week.

The county’s proposed 2023 operating budget would allocate a total of $8.7 million to human resources departments, roughly in line with this year’s contribution, a review of the document shows.

That local portion is a small portion of the Human Services Department’s overall budget, which is projected to be $111.7 million in 2023 and will be funded primarily through state and federal allocations, grants, and other revenue sources, it shows.

Children and Youth has the largest proposed total budget — $46.6 million — and the county contribution, which remains at $6.9 million.

The other proposed budgets within the county’s Human Services Division, along with the county’s contributions:

• Mental Health/Development Services, total US$20.76 million/US$158,820 district payment

• Human Services block grant totaling $19.7 million/$1 million district payment

• Area Agency on Aging, $14.2 million total/no county payment

• Drugs and alcohol totaling $7.1 million/$175,850 district payment

• Administration, $2.9 million total/$92,470 district payment

• Veterans Affairs, totaling $363,750, funded entirely by the county

Reach out to Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.