The recent settlements of opioid-related lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors is expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Long Island’s county governments. With Suffolk potentially receiving as much as $127 million from these settlements, Legislators last week unanimously adopted policies that ensure use of these funds will be restricted to fighting substance abuse moving forward.
Through complimentary bills sponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Hahn, all settlement proceeds received by Suffolk will broadly be restricted to the following uses to stop the opioid epidemic:
- Prevention/ Education/ Training/ Research;
- Support efforts to provide leadership, planning and coordination;
- Post-mortem services; and;
- Municipal operations for prevention, treatment and/or recovery relating to opioid abuse.
The policy only covers the portion of funding over which the County has discretion, and will not apply to the amount connected with the global settlement agreements involving the State because they are already restricted by the New York State Opioid Settlement Fund’s guidelines. In addition, in order to maximize this important opportunity to address the currently surging addiction problem, the policy prohibits the reimbursement for old costs previously spent to address the epidemic.
“In dedicating proceeds from the opioid settlement to specific addiction, treatment and prevention services in the future, we are resolving to end the opioid epidemic and support those who have been devastated because of it,” said Legislator Hahn. “While no settlement will ever compensate for the suffering this scourge has imposed, I hope families will find solace in knowing that by restricting these funds to treatment, education, and prevention efforts we are setting a wider path toward recovery here in Suffolk County.”
For lawmakers, the importance of codifying specific uses for agreement payments stem from the County’s previous experience with settlement proceeds. In 1998, similar optimism for expansion of services were expressed following a deal in which tobacco companies settled with 46 states to make long-term payments to governments in exchange for not suing the companies for smoking-related injuries. In the decade that followed the tobacco agreement, however, County officials frequently returned to debating how the unrestricted funding should be allocated – weighing prevention and treatment service verses budget stabilization. Ultimately, in 2011, officials chose to sell-off remaining expected future revenues to help close a county budgetary gap.
Concerns about the resolution of that agreement arose in July when the County was asked to approve settlement offers originating from lawsuits it authorized in 2015 against manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for alleged “false advertising, common law fraud, public nuisance and product liability.” During deliberations on the approval of the opioid settlements, Suffolk lawmakers, this time expressed their commitment to ensuring funding is linked to drug abuse related services and prevention rather than for general governmental operations.
“The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is hopeful the opioid settlement money will significantly help treatment, prevention, and recovery services here in Suffolk County,” said Executive Director Steve Chassman, LCSW, CASAC. “In light of CDC’s most recent data documenting more than 100,000 opioid fatalities during the last year, these monies will greatly benefit individuals and families in Suffolk. LICADD is grateful for our partnership with Suffolk County government, as we collectively work to right the wrongs inflicted on the Suffolk’s residents.”
According to Legislator Jim Mazzarella, a co-sponsor of the bills, “I am honored and privileged to sign on as a co-sponsor of this important legislation that takes funds from the opioid settlement and ensures that it is being allocated to fight addiction and provide services to those in need. The only way we are going to succeed in the fight against the opioid epidemic is to increase education, treatment, and preventative measures with regards to drug addiction. The funds from these settlements will position the County to help expand current programs and also create new ones.”
“With our vote, these funds will be tied to the purpose for which we sought them, which is to support the work of ending the opioid epidemic and its devastating consequences throughout our county,” said Hahn.
Legislator Hahn began fighting the opioid epidemic when she passed legislation in 2012 to equip county police with Narcan nasal spray and train civilians to carry Narcan and use it to save lives, a move that has been credited with reviving and saving thousands of lives according to the SCPD data. Next she authored legislation to address the treatment needs of those who had been saved by Narcan interventions. In addition, knowing that addiction often starts with sports injuries, Hahn spearheaded an initiative working with addiction experts and area schools to develop a training program for coaches designed to equip them to address drug addiction risks among student athletes. She has also led efforts to increase compassion fatigue training for first responders and to create Emergency Room protocols for overdose cases. Legislator Hahn will continue to find ways to advance the fight to end opioid addiction in Suffolk County.
Photo: "Love Lock" by Eric Sonstroem