The following editorial appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
Gambling is coming to Westmoreland County.
No, not just in the mini casino at the mall. It’s happening in the halls of government, too.
The Westmoreland County commissioners decided last month to roll the dice on a settlement in the federal opioid lawsuit.
The proposed total of the litigation that involves more than 2,000 municipalities plus attorneys general from four states, including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro, rests at $48 billion.
But Westmoreland looked at its cards, assessed the dealer and pressed on.
“The money being tossed around in these various lawsuits is extraordinary, and we’re trying to find the best deal for Westmoreland County,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.
That is admirable. The county’s leaders should be looking for the most return for the county.
The question, as with all gambling, is whether the risks outweigh the rewards.
According to a county controller’s study, Westmoreland spent $19 million on law enforcement, investigation, incarceration, supervision and other programs directly related to drug addiction just in 2016. That’s one year in an epidemic that has been growing for almost two decades.
Pittsburgh attorney Robert Peirce represents Westmoreland in the suit and said he believes the proposed settlement places too much emphasis on the states.
But in September, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy just weeks after attempting to negotiate a $12 billion settlement. Shapiro then sued the company’s owners personally.
Negotiations have continued with Purdue and the other drug companies. But is Westmoreland holding out for a settlement that could disappear amid other payouts and bankruptcy court?
Ideally, no. County lawyers recommended the move and said participating in upcoming settlement talks is what could limit Westmoreland’s options.
Let’s hope it works out. Let’s hope the county spins the wheel long enough to recoup the millions of taxpayer dollars that opioids have sucked up like coins fed into a nickel slot machine.
But let’s also hope they know when to stop, because a jackpot would be fantastic, but just a portion of one would be better than the losses the drugs have already delivered.