Since 2014, thousands of civil lawsuits have been filed against four U.S. companies that produced prescription opioids, which local and state governments say fueled the ongoing opioid crisis throughout the country for decades.
A settlement was reached in 2022 for $26 billion and Pennsylvania will receive more than $1 billion, which is intended to fund opioid remediation programs throughout the state.
According to Spotlight PA, “For several years, Pennsylvania has had one of the country’s highest drug overdose death rates. In 2021, Pennsylvania had 5,350 fatal drug overdoses, and 78% of them involved fentanyl, state data shows.”
Deaths caused by drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, or liver failure are known as “deaths of despair.” This cause of death in Allegheny County is 22.4% higher than the Pennsylvania average and 45.1% higher than the national average.
According to data collected through New Sun Rising’s Vibrancy Index, the Black Community makes up 13% of the population in Allegheny County, but suffers 29% of overdose deaths in the area.
“It starts off as recreational, as a means of escape from the everyday stress of just living life on life’s terms,” said Denise Zellous, director of Zellous Hope Project. “Living with generational poverty and getting up to another day of surviving versus living, it’s easy to get entrapped in something that gives you relief and drugs is something that does.”
Zellous Hope is based in McKees Rocks and provides a bridge over the holes in the road to better living by working with existing organizations to assist with what people say they need.
The high percentage of deaths of despair and the disproportionate effects of overdose deaths in Black Communities contribute to a lack of progress on Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being and lowers our region’s overall Vibrancy Index score. There are a total of 17 SDG’s, which were created globally as a call to action to raise the quality of life for all people and preserve the future of our planet.
Analysis shows Allegheny County communities that fall within the lowest 20% for Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3) also rank lower for No Poverty (SDG 1), Zero Hunger (SDG 2), and Life on Land (SDG 15). Furthermore, these communities tend to be communities of color, with the non-white population being 2.7x higher in communities with the lowest health index score.
In 2021, 94.6% of county residents had health insurance, which is higher than the state and national average, but that doesn’t always equal adequate support. Zellous said most of the safety nets that are accessible for those who need help have holes where people can slip through, or don’t cover the basic needs necessary to stabilize an individual. And it is not only the affected residents who are impacted by these statistics.
Community leaders working with those who suffer from generational trauma or addiction can become burnt out physically and emotionally. This kind of exhaustion only became exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognizing the lack of support for leaders in the area, the Nonprofit Resilience Program was developed through conversations between New Sun Rising, Neighborhood Allies, B.O.S.S Consulting, and other members of The Partnership Network who were concerned about the retention of nonprofit leaders.
“You talk about professional boundaries, but you’re human,” Zellous said. “It really takes a toll on you, because you can’t help but be emotionally moved by the fact that for every person you help, there are four to five more that you can’t reach.”
“And not only are you fighting to make a difference, but you’ve got policies in place that make it almost impossible to do that, because you’re fighting against laws that are outdated and counterintuitive to what it is that you’re trying to do.”
To learn more about how funds from the opioid lawsuit settlements will be distributed and to voice your opinions in the decision making, click here.
New Sun Rising supports multiple projects and organizations through our fiscal sponsorship program that are elevating the health and well-being of Allegheny County, including: Pittsburgh Bridges OCD, Unshakeable Motherhood, Melanin Mommies, Flourish Ed, Birth Your Way, Visible Hands, and Grow Sto-Rox.
This Power in Numbers data story is part of New Sun Rising’s commitment to using data, technology, organizing, communication, and creativity to help people advocate for the future they envision. Learn more about the Power in Numbers initiative and access the Vibrancy Portal platform. Is there something that you would like to share about health and well-being in your community? Contribute to the conversation through the Community Voice feedback form.
The Vibrancy Index helps people to understand conditions in their community through 50 institutional data points. The VI also generates sub-indices in Culture, Sustainability, Opportunity, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3) Index includes five different indicators such as rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, substance abuse and addiction, and air quality.