Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone said Monday that $180 million from the settlement of a landmark lawsuit filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors will be spread across many programs over the next two decades to help end the opioid crisis.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Suffolk is accepting grant applications from drug treatment providers, community groups and county agencies for programs designed to combat the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island since the late 1990s, County Executive Steve Bellone and other officials announced Monday. 

Up to $25 million will be available this year, part of the $180 million Suffolk is expected to receive over the next 18 years from the settlement of the landmark lawsuit it filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors, said Bellone, who was joined by public health officials and county legislators during a news conference in Hauppauge. 

Suffolk also released a report issued by the opioid settlement task force Bellone convened last year that details the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic, recommended that the money be used for prevention and harm reduction, treatment and recovery. Officials will monitor the effectiveness of the programs they fund to determine how future money will be spent. 

“We are dedicated to the idea that every dollar of these funds will go toward ending this crisis, every single dollar,” Bellone said.

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), a task force member, said the money will help Suffolk families crushed by the opioid crisis but said it was just a “drop in the bucket” compared to the profits made by the Sackler family — owners of Purdue Pharma, which manufactured Oxycontin — and other companies that made or distributed opioids.

“There are so many companies and people that created  this tsunami of death and now we are here to pick up the pieces with $180 million,” said Anker, the chairwoman  of the Suffolk County Addiction Prevention and Support Advisory Panel  “That’s good, that’s going to be helpful, but we still have a long way to go. Kids are still getting addicted.” 

The task force consulted with dozens of health agencies, treatment providers and community groups, including Northwell Health Systems, Stony Brook University Hospital, the New York State Offices of Addiction Services and Supports and the Beading Hearts, grieving parents — mostly mothers — who have lost loved ones to fatal overdoses and now assist those struggling with addiction. 

“This money came with a cost, and that cost is lives,” said Suffolk Legislature Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst). 

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

“The commitment to fund prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery programs will go a long way towards saving future lives,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO and president of the Family & Children’s Association, which provides treatment and counseling. “Because every dollar matters, treatment professionals, people in recovery and families impacted by opioids will be watching this process very closely, offering suggestions and tracking outcomes to ensure the most effective use of funds.”

 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 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.

Nassau officials have not yet announced how the county will spend its opioid settlement funds. 

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.

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