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Suffolk lawmakers accept up to $106M in opioid settlements

Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Robert Calarco is

Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Robert Calarco is shown on Jan. 15, 2020. Credit: Morgan Campbell.

The Suffolk County Legislature accepted up to $106.3 million from three of the nation’s largest opioid distributors Tuesday to settle part of a lawsuit seeking to hold drug companies accountable for the opioid epidemic.

The 18-member legislature unanimously approved settlements totaling between $87.3 and $106.3 million over 18 years from McKesson, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal Health.

The settlement is part of a $1.1-billion state settlement announced last week by state Attorney General Letitia James, as well as a $26-billion settlement with multiple states and the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, officials said.

Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said county officials will review during the budget process how to use the money for drug addiction prevention and treatment programs and will seek to create programs that can last, even after the settlement money runs out.

"We are still in the midst of this crisis," Calarco said. "There's a lot of need out there, and we need to make sure that we are creating treatment programs and access to those programs that are substantial to accommodate everybody."

The settlement removed the three drug distributors from an ongoing opioid trial in state court in Suffolk County, which accused drug companies of helping fuel the opioid crisis on Long Island. Nassau is slated to get nearly $87 million in the settlement, officials said.

The size of Suffolk’s settlement will depend on if other municipalities become party to the state agreement, although the county is guaranteed to receive 8.63% of any state settlement, Calarco said.

Suffolk will receive about $20 million next year, and except for about $1 million for attorney fees, there are no restrictions on how that money is spent, Calarco said. He added that officials are committed to using that funding for drug programs.

The rest of the settlement must be used for programs associated with the drug epidemic, officials said.

Suffolk previously secured $30 million in settlements from drug companies and pharmacies.

"These dollars are going to help lift that burden off of taxpayers, are going to help move forward with additional programs to battle the ongoing opioid epidemic to provide some relief," County Executive Steve Bellone said in a news conference last week. "But let's be very clear, these dollars can never replace what has been lost here.

Also Tuesday, the legislature approved creating a Fair Housing Advisory Board to combat housing discrimination, following a three-year Newsday investigation found evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents toward potential minority homebuyers.

The board follows the creation of a Fair Housing Task Force, which was slated to disband this year and which issued sweeping recommendations last month, including establishing a long-term advisory board and creating an undercover testing program.

The 15-person advisory board will include elected officials, fair housing advocates, human rights advocates, racial justice group representatives and builders, according to the legislation.

The legislature on Tuesday also overrode a veto on a bill aiming to crack down on "reckless biking." The vote was 15-3. The bill, sponsored by Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and approved by the legislature June 8, allows Suffolk County police to confiscate bicycles and issue fines of up to $250 for violations.

Bellone vetoed the bill July 12, citing concerns about a lack of due process for impounding bicycles and an inability to enforce the legislation against minors, who, under the law, cannot receive law enforcement violations and who officials said are typically the culprits for trick riding and "ride-outs." Bellone vetoed a similar bill in February.

Legislators who supported the override have said the bill is needed to protect public safety. Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) voted against the override, with Fleming expressing concern about the bill's lack of enforceability.

The legislature also:

  • Approved moving forward with two voter-approved sewer projects after estimated costs escalated by about $50 million. The legislature approved using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to offset the added costs for the Forge River and Carlls River sewer projects, which would connect nearly 4,000 homes in Mastic-Shirley and Babylon Town to sewers. The new Forge River sewer district is expected to cost about $224 million, up from $191 million, while a plan to expand the Southwest Sewer District in Babylon Town near the Carlls River is expected to cost $157.6 million, up from $140.2 million, according to the resolutions. Sewer taxes would be $470 for Forge River and $590 for Carlls River, according to the resolutions.
  • Renamed the sheriff’s Office of Personnel Investigations Bureau building after Sgt. Keith Allison, who died from COVID-19 last year.
  • Required exterminators to call beekeepers to remove honeybee colonies to avoid killing them.

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