Community members gathered to speak about the negative effects of drug use and to bring awarness to familes and people in need.   Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The leader of a prominent Long Island treatment program criticized Nassau and New York State Wednesday for failing to roll out plans to distribute opioid settlement funds during an International Overdose Awareness Day event in Hauppauge to remember those killed by drug abuse.

About 700 people — almost two a day — died in Nassau and Suffolk from fatal overdoses in 2021, said Jeffrey Reynolds, the CEO and president of the Family & Children’s Association, who said preventable drug deaths will continue without additional prevention, treatment and recovery funds.

He called on Nassau and state officials to start distributing the money to the agencies on the front lines of an epidemic that has claimed thousands of Long Island lives.

“There has been no word about what Nassau County intends to do with their money,” Reynolds said during the event at THRIVE Recovery Center. “Every time elected officials came around with their big checks, we stood next to them, we clapped, we were happy. This was going to revolutionize our approach to opioids. To have this much time pass and not see a dime in this region is troublesome at best.”

In a statement, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said his administration is trying to design a plan that would effectively distribute the funds.

"That includes vetting all organizations seeking funds to make sure the money is used for education, recovery, prevention and law-enforcement," he said.

Suffolk announced on July 25 that it is accepting grant applications from drug treatment providers, community groups and county agencies for programs designed to combat the opioid epidemic. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said up to $25 million will be available this year.

“So there is some hope there,” Reynolds said.

The state Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board, created to provide recommendations to Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers by Nov. 1, has made little progress in deciding how to distribute the settlement funds, Reynolds said.

Dr. Jeffery Reynolds, center, speaks at an International Overdose Awareness Day...

Dr. Jeffery Reynolds, center, speaks at an International Overdose Awareness Day event in Hauppauge on Wednesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

“The Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board, for you who have watched the meetings, is an absolute mess that includes a ton of infighting and almost no decision-making,” Reynolds said.

The New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports said in a statement that it will make recommendations to the governor and the legislature by the Nov. 1 deadline but declined to address Reynolds’ criticism. “As per the terms of the budget agreement, this funding cannot be distributed until after the board makes its recommendations,” the agency said.

Larry Lamendola of Wantagh, whose daughter Lisa died from fatal overdose in 2018, called on government leaders to rebuild communities devastated by the opioid epidemic in the same way the United States helped rebuild Europe after World War II.

“We rebuilt Europe, if we could rebuild Europe, we can eliminate the opioid, we can eliminate the opioid-heroin epidemic,” Lamedola said. “From a local, state, and federal level, the funding should be there for recovery programs.

Suffolk became the first county in New York in 2016 to file a lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic. It was later joined by Nassau and the New York Attorney General’s Office. 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.

New York Attorney General Letitia James secured a $1.5 billion settlement with the drug companies and said in April that Nassau would receive $20 million this year, while Suffolk would receive $26 million in 2022 from that agreement.

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