CENTRAL NEW YORK (WSYR-TV) — New York State is receiving millions from legal settlements with companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. It is money that is supposed to be used to combat addiction.
But some lawmakers and advocacy groups say that’s not what’s happening, claiming two-thirds of a recent $32 million settlement got swept into the state’s general fund. Senator Peter Harckham, Chair of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee, is pushing for a bill to create an opioid settlement lock box or specialized fund. NewsChannel 9 spoke with families and treatment advocates who are lining up behind him.
They’ve each suffered personal losses and now work on the front lines of the opioid crisis. They are appalled at the idea of settlement funds being diverted to anything other than those who need help.
“That $32 million has lives. A lot of my friends are attached to it, and I’m sick of going to funerals and I wish that the legislature could feel the same way,” said Ashley Livingston of Friends of Recovery.
“It is so disrespectful to my son and so dismissive to people like me,” Avi Israel said.
Israel’s son, Michael, was prescribed pain pills to treat a chronic disease and got addicted. He was turned away from a treatment center. He took his life. This was his last text message to his dad.
“‘Dad, I love you, but you don’t deserve a son like me and ha,’” Israel read. “I tried to get him into treatment, we were told to take him home.”
“My son died, took his last breath with me, holding him, and the reason we got, New York State got the money is because of kids like Michael, and because of kids like and people who are friends with Ashley,” Israel said.
In sustained recovery, Livingston recalls the shame she felt as she struggled with addiction.
“No one deserves to feel like that and I was prescribed into addiction, back then, it was the easiest thing for them to do, and that’s where the money is coming from, because of their marketing and unethical practices, that’s why the money is coming the state of New York,” Livingston said.
And Dennis Gregg’s step-daughter, Holland, continues to rehab from a brain injury after an overdose, another victim of a broken system.
“We’ve all suffered greatly as a result of a broken system,” Gregg said. “We need to clean up the insurance industry. Like Michael, Holland had three to 14 day stay at rehab, there hasn’t been enough emphasis on prevention and hasn’t certainly been enough on recovery.”
With considerably larger settlements expected with opioid manufacturers, they’re now joining others to make sure 100 percent of the funds are used for treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.
Livingston said, “We can protect future money, right, and say advocates, people with lived experiences consume with services, family members, these are the people who need to be driving the bus.”
During a time when so many communities are seeing an uptick in addiction and overdose deaths.
A budget spokesperson for the Cuomo administration sent NewsChannel 9 a statement that reads: “New York State has fought hard to ensure those who prospered from the opioid crisis pay a price that offsets the costs of combating it and all $28 million the state will receive from this settlement in Fiscal Year 2022 is dedicated to combating addiction and save lives as directed by the legislature in the budget they passed this month, including $11 million to increase support for medication-assisted treatment in state prisons, and $1.25 million to restore funding for syringe exchange programs and for the purchase of naloxone to combat overdoses. Meanwhile, the federal government is adding $105 million to the effort to combat addiction in New York over the next two years.”
New York State received $28 million from the settlement in this fiscal year. There are also three remaining payments of $1.4 million each that are due no later than two, three, and four years after the first payment.
Friends of Recovery plans a day of action on May 4.