At a press conference this morning on the west side of the state Capitol, Ashley Livingston, a recovering opioid addict from Glens Falls, and an advocate for drug treatment and prevention, put the legislature on notice regarding opioid settlement money.

“So help me, if they try to take these funds and put them into the general fund, which is a slush fund, I don’t even know what I will do, but I will be back here and I will probably lose it. I can’t probably say what I would do on TV, so I’m not going to. But let’s just say I’m going to be here every day,” Livingston warned.

Experts agree with Livingston.

Marvin D. Seppala, a psychiatrist with expertise in addiction medicine and the chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation recently wrote, “Money from opioid settlements should never cover general budget shortfalls. They should be dedicated now, and long-term, to addressing the enormous and growing needs of our family members, friends, and neighbors who struggle with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.”

Livingston and other advocates for funding drug treatment services like Avi Israel, who spoke with Capital Tonight, are urging the state legislature to get its act together when it comes to preparing for an influx of what could be billions of dollars in opioid settlement money.

There is a two-step process that needs to happen within the parameters of the budget in order for the legislature to take the reins when it comes to opioid settlement money.

Step one is to put an appropriation in an appropriations bill to authorize the spending of the money. Step two is to set up a specialized account.

In its one-house bill, the Senate set up the specialized account, and created a working group, but it did not put in an appropriation, which is the legal authority with which to spend the money. 

Conversely, the Assembly one-house bill created an appropriation, but it didn’t create a specialized fund or lock box.

If the two houses’ proposals came together, they would have a legally sufficient plan to ensure the money is dedicated and authorized to be spent for the purposes of support, prevention, treatment, and recovery from opioid addiction. 

If the houses do not, the settlement money could very well be swept into the budget of Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), and supplant state funding. 

As of today, New York State has only benefitted from a single settlement: $32 million from the consulting firm McKinsey.

To give you an example of how large these settlements could be, in the multidistrict opioid litigation being negotiated in Ohio, there’s currently a proposal being discussed by plaintiffs, drug distributors and some of the drug companies that’s worth around $27 billion. 

Additionally, according to Law 360, a New York state judge set a June trial date for the long-anticipated New York attorney general's suit over the opioid crisis, which has been delayed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say that once these cases start coming before juries, they are likely to settle, which adds to the state’s time crunch.