New York state politicians, Friends of Recovery advocates and individuals impacted by addiction stood outside the Capitol building in Albany to reform substance abuse by allowing the settlement funds from a 2019 lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, which are currently lying in the state’s general fund, to be administered to recovery and treatment programs.
An estimated $21 million remains in the state’s fund. The state is expected to receive $32 million in total from the settlement, which is part of a $573 settlement deal that was struck with 46 states and the District of Columbia and the marketing firm representing Purdue Pharma.
“As long as one person is dying from overdose, we need to commit every dollar,” said State Senator Pete Harkham (D-40), who chairs a committee on alcoholism and substance abuse. “You cannot put a price tag on human life.”
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake) and Assemblyman John T. McDonald III (D-Cohoes) discussed the bill A6395 that puts in writing an order to administer the settlement money to treatment programs. McDonald is a co-sponsor on the bill, which is currently in the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse committee.
“These monies need to be directed to meet the needs of people who are struggling,” she said. “They need to go to prevention to treatment, to recovery and to harm reduction. It is very critical that we work to make that happen.”
Officials representing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have stated that the funds will be used on all addiction-related services and programs, but it was reported that treatment providers would not be receiving an increase in state spending. Rather, the settlement funds would replace existing funding for these programs.
Friends of Recovery-New York Executive Director Dr. Angelia Smith-Wilson also spoke. She issued a call to action for the funds to reach the right sources.
“It’s time to acknowledge the devastation and the destruction. opioid epidemic has done and continues to do. mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and marginalized communities, especially communities of color,” she said. “It is time to acknowledge that the opioid litigation funds are simply for those who have been inflicted and impacted.”
Maureen Provost of the Friends of Recovery’s Saratoga chapter shared the story of losing her son in 2014 to an overdose, and how both stigma and a lack of adequate supports for substance abuse in New York state contributed to his death.
“While he was willing to seek help, there were insufficient awareness and acceptance of substance use disorder as an illness,” she said. “The state of New York cannot allow that to happen to one more individual.”
Louis DuBois from the Bronx spoke about how he has recovered from addiction, and why he believes strengthening supports for those in recovery is essential. He reported being sober for 23 years after struggling with addiction following a fentanyl overdose in 1991.
“Recovery is possible,” he said. “We need to provide the community with the resources needed to strengthen our combat on addiction.”
Last year alone, there were over 81,000 lives lost to drug overdoses across the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. A number of New York state counties and municipalities have reported upticks in opioid overdoses, including Albany County, which reported a 60 percent increase in opioid deaths.