Westmoreland County takes over $91K salary, benefits for drug task force head
Westmoreland County will begin paying the salary for the executive director of a nonprofit group aiming to reduce the number of local overdose deaths.
Commissioners on Thursday approved an agreement with Westmoreland Community Action to pay the salary and other associated costs of the Drug Overdose Task Force, which operates out of an office at the courthouse.
The position had been paid for since 2016 with a $250,000 grant from the Allegheny Foundation to help stem the growing number of fatal overdoses in the county. The salary and benefits of director Tim Phillips amount to $91,000 per year.
“We knew the grant was going to run out, and we’d have to find another way to fund it. In the future, there may be another grant we can apply for,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.
Commissioner Ted Kopas said the task force still has work to accomplish.
“Given the value that the executive director has brought and that the crisis has continued, it’s a smart investment,” Kopas said.
Phillips was hired in 2016 as the first director of the task force and is the lone paid employee. The group has been at the forefront of educational and prevention efforts seeking to curb drug addiction. The task force operates the Get In Westmoreland web page, which provides links to drug addiction services.
Commissioners created the task force in 2013 and set a goal to cut the number of overdoses in half by 2025.
In 2013, fatal overdoses reached a then-record 86. The number of deaths continued to rise each year and peaked in 2017, when 193 people died, according to statistics from the county coroner’s office.
The trend started to reverse last year when overdose deaths decreased to 122. And the number of deaths continues to decline this year, with 45 pending and confirmed cases through July 1.
“We have to continue the momentum,” Phillips said. “We’re seeing increases in methamphetamine and cocaine, so we need to look at this as an all-encompassing disease. We’ve been pioneers in a lot of this, and we’re really making a difference.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .