As a way to help combated the opioid epidemic, Suffolk County has begun distributing $25 million to drug treatment providers, community groups and government agencies, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced at a press conference on Thursday.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Suffolk has begun distributing $25 million to drug treatment providers, community groups and government agencies for programs designed to combat the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island since the late 1990s, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other officials announced Thursday. 

The funds are part of the approximately $200 million the county is expected to receive over the next two decades from the settlement of the landmark lawsuit it filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to Bellone, who was joined by treatment providers, public health officials and county legislators during a news conference in Hauppauge. 

“We are dedicated to the idea that these funds will go towards helping those individuals and families who have suffered, that these funds will go towards ending the opioid epidemic once and for all, every single dollar,” Bellone said. “That is our commitment.”

The county in July issued a request for grant proposals for programs promoting drug prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery. Bellone said the county received 111 applications. A review committee approved 37 applications for the three-year grants submitted by 34 organizations, officials said. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Suffolk County has begun distributing $25 million in grants to programs designed to combat the opiods epidemic.
  • The funds are part of the approximately $200 million the county is expected to receive over the next two decades from the settlement of the landmark lawsuit it filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
  • A review committee approved 37 applications for the three-year grants submitted by 34 organizations, officials said.

The recipients include government agencies such as the Town of Smithtown Horizon Counseling and Education Center, and treatment providers such as the Family and Children’s Association and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The committee that selected the recipients also recommended an additional appropriation of $11 million for capital projects. The funds will be distributed to Catholic Health’s St. Charles Hospital, Northwell’s John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Phoenix Houses of Long Island and the Town of Babylon’s Beacon Family Wellness Center.

Thomas’ Hope Foundation of Holtsville, which connects people struggling with addiction to treatment programs and provides support to their families, received a $265,000 grant that it will use to expand staff, outreach to the homeless community, transportation and other services, said executive director Linda Ventura, who said she began the organization to honor her son Thomas, who died from a fatal overdose in 2012.

“We at Thomas’ Hope just try to be the people that I wish I had holding my hand, that he had someone that he could vent to and be with,” Ventura said. “That’s what it is all about, that connection, that human connection that we all need.”

Linda Ventura representing the Thomas’ Hope Foundation, named for her...

Linda Ventura representing the Thomas’ Hope Foundation, named for her son who died of a drug overdose, said her organization received a $265,000 grant to help combat the opioids epidemic. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The county will issue another request for proposals later this year and organizations that did not receive grants during the first distribution of opioid settlement money can resubmit their applications. The Suffolk County Department of Health will monitor the effectiveness of the programs receiving the funds, Bellone said. 

“This is a battle that will be ongoing and we have to do everything we can to insure that these funds are spent in the best way possible,” he said. “We understand these settlement dollars can never bring back the loved ones and those who have been lost during this terrible epidemic but our hope is that with this additional money, we will be able to reduce additional suffering.”

Long Island public health officials and addiction experts said that fatal overdoses, which had declined in the years before COVID-19, have spiked, primarily due to the social isolation, grief and anxiety caused by the pandemic. 

 In 2016, Suffolk became the first county in New York to file a lawsuit against drug companies for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic and was later joined by Nassau County and the New York Attorney General’s Office in the action. The complaint said the drug manufacturers and distributors created a public nuisance by downplaying the risk of addiction and dishonestly and aggressively promoting the use of opioid painkillers.

Many of the original defendants — including well-known companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid — agreed to settlements before the lawsuit went to trial in June 2021 in Central Islip, while others reached deals with the state and the counties during the trial.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman invited organizations in September to submit proposals for programs to combat substance abuse. He said the county plans to spend $60 million — $15 million annually — on drug prevention, education and treatment over the next four years.

Nassau officials have appointed a panel to review the 60 proposals it has received since then, according to Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Blakeman. Boyle said on Thursday that decisions regarding those proposals will be announced in the near future. 

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