By Isabella Lenarduzzi
Kings Park High School
After a five-year legal battle, three pharmaceutical companies and distributors reached a settlement with Suffolk and Nassau counties on July 12 for their roles in furthering the deadly opioid addiction crisis. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn announced this week that she plans to introduce a bill to ensure that money gets to where it is most needed.
Suffolk County expects to receive approximately $100 million in total from the settlement, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a press conference this week.
As lawsuits and settlements like this play out in courtrooms across the country, people are raising concerns over how this money will be spent.
“Any money we get has to be invested into treatment and prevention,” Hahn said during a news conference Tuesday, rather than reimbursing county agencies “for funds they’ve already expended” on other issues.
She said with her new proposed legislation, the money would go to addiction and mental health treatment centers, methadone clinics, and other support services for people who are addicted to opioids. She also said it is important to make healthcare accessible for people who are addicted.
According to the Suffolk County Addiction and Support Advisory Panel, there were 1,381 reported overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, in 2019. In 2020 that number increased to 1,515 overdoses in the county. Across the U.S., there were an estimated 93,330 reported overdoses in 2020, which is 5 percent higher than in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports.
“This was not the drug-slingers on the street who were causing the problem,” Robert Calarco, the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, said in a news conference this week. “It was the drug-slingers in executive board offices causing the problem, sending this problem back to us in Suffolk County . . . We are finally holding them accountable today.”
Hahn said she wants to ensure there is no misuse of the settlement money, saying, “It’s important we spend it right.”
Her plan would establish a task force of experts and individuals from organizations like the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence who would assess and decide where the money should go. This settlement is also a big win for LICADD, as its executive director, Steve Chassman, puts it.
“Certain U.S. pharmaceutical companies put dollars and cents ahead of public health and people’s lives. [It] is tragic on many levels,” Mr. Chassman said in an interview this week. “We weren’t just fighting the disease of substance abuse disorder or opioid dependence, we were fighting big capital and big pharma, over-prescribers.”
Johnson and Johnson’s executive vice president, Michael Ullmann, said in a statement on the company’s website this week that “we recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue . . . This settlement will directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States.”
Hahn’s new legislation builds upon her previous work in the Suffolk County Legislature. Because of a bill she wrote in 2012, which was adopted by the Suffolk County Legislature, all Suffolk County Police Department officers are now trained and equipped with a medication called naloxone, also known as Narcan, in order to prevent opioid overdose deaths. New York State eventually followed suit.
According to the New York State Department of Health, in 2019, law enforcement officers across the state reported using naloxone 1,558 times.