Two New York State Assembly members have co-sponsored a bill that hopes to take the settlement funds from a 2019 lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and administer them to various agencies and programs tackling recovery and treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse.
The bill’s sponsor Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (NY-113) shared how she got involved with this cause.
“From the beginning, this has been an issue that I’ve engaged on, as a mechanism to really help what is a crisis across a lot of our communities, urban, suburban, and rural,” she said. “Like many parts of New York state, we have been hit hard by the opioid crisis.”
Indeed, Saratoga County — one of the counties Woerner represents — has seen its overdose rate nearly double within the last year after hitting a historic low.
Because of this, Woerner wants to add funds from the settlement to New York state’s existing budget. She describes the state’s overall response to the opioid epidemic as “uneven.”
“I think that there is a lot of good intent, but I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job at at creating a framework for inpatient support,” she said. “For detox particularly, it’s a critical step in the recovery process that when someone is ready to make that change, they need a safe place to support them through that process.”
One of the bill’s co-sponsors is John T. McDonald III (NY-108), who during his other job as a pharmacist has seen the effects the opioid epidemic has had on his constituents.
“My experience has been that has people are writhing in pain, we prescribe these pills and they go from one extreme to the other,” he said.
McDonald strays away from using the term addiction in regards to the suffering of those dealing with substance abuse. He uses the term substance use disorder to recognize that it is a health issue rather than one of criminality.
“Historically, it has not been acknowledged as a health issue,” he said. “It should be seen as a condition no different from heart disease or high cholesterol.”
Representing a diverse district in the state, McDonald has seen a wide array of constituents who have been affected by this disease.
“Black and brown communities harbor resentment from the drug war,” he said, “but more and more people overall are supportive of the view that this is a health issue.”
This bill comes as a recent book called “Empire of Pain” and HBO documentary “The Crime of the Century” have brought Purdue Pharma founders the Sackler family into the limelight once more.
Purdue Pharma is seeking to restructure itself into a place that funds programs addressing the opioid crisis. The Sackler family has promised to pay $500 million upfront to address hundreds of thousands of injury claims linked to the company, with an additional $4.2 billion to be paid over the next decade to address the ramifications of the opioid epidemic. This has largely been viewed by activists and public officials as a bid for criminal immunity from enabling the opioid epidemic.
In response, 24 state attorneys have filed a brief against the embattled company.
Woerner simply replied “shame on them” in regard to the Sackler family’s denial of any wrongdoing.
McDonald urged both individuals and the government alike to hold the family accountable for their complicity in the opioid crisis.
He also stated that both state governments and the federal government bear responsibility for their role in ignoring this issue.
“This has been decades in the making,” he said.
Both assembly members are hopeful that the bill will pass.
“There has been more cooperation and understanding than ever before,” said McDonald.
“I think this has broad bipartisan support,” said Woerner. “I’m highly confident that it will get passed.”