New York Attorney General Letitia James addressing the crowd at...

New York Attorney General Letitia James addressing the crowd at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood in March. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Long Island will receive nearly $47 million to battle the opioid epidemic, part of the first round of funds distributed to counties and cities from settlements New York State Attorney General Letitia James negotiated in a lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors. 

Appearing at  a virtual news conference with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, James said Suffolk will receive $26.4 million for substance abuse prevention, treatment and support services for those struggling with addiction. Nassau will receive $20.4 million, she said. 

“While there is no amount of money that can ever make up for the loss of life, the loss of a loved one, these large settlements will help hold these drug companies accountable,” James said. “They will prevent drug companies from engaging in deception going forward and will help New Yorkers end the terrible cycle of hopelessness and drug addiction.”

Long Island addiction experts said the money will help reverse a spike in fatal overdoses and rising substance abuse they blame on the social isolation, financial anxiety, depression and grief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fatal overdoses had declined in the years before the pandemic hit Long Island in March 2020. 

“No amount of money will bring back the lives that were lost,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of Family & Children’s Association, which provides treatment and recovery support. “But the real key now is putting that money into programs that have already been proven successful.” 

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. James’ office joined the lawsuit in 2019. 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.

In December, a Suffolk County jury ended the six-month trial by voting to hold the only remaining defendant, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and its affiliates, responsible for the opioid epidemic. The case is expected to set a template for future settlements with drug companies. 

Suffolk will use the money to bolster the county’s prevention programs, treatment services and recovery support, Bellone said. 

“We want to fill the gaps, we want to expand capacity so that these dollars are best being used above and beyond what we are already doing,” Bellone said. 

Blakeman said he will meet with Barry Wilansky, his new director of substance abuse policy who has more than 30 years of experience in rehabilitation services, to identify the best way to spend the money.

“One area I certainly want to concentrate on is rehab, rehabilitation, to try to get these young people back to be normal and live a healthy life,” Blakeman said. 

Steve Chassman, the executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, called the settlement money an investment in Suffolk and Nassau. Drug education and treatment programs, he said, will not only prevent future fatal overdoses but will also lead to a decline in crime and incarceration. 

“This is a huge step forward,” Chassman said. “This is how we change this epidemic.” 


 

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