Avi Israel feels like he got “smacked in the face.”
“I feel like Michael’s death doesn’t mean anything to this governor,” he told Capital Tonight when asked for his reaction to the decision by Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to sweep most of an early tranche of opioid settlement funding into the general fund.
Avi’s son, Michael, took his own life after an eight-year ordeal during which he was diagnosed with an aggressive and painful strain of Crohn’s Disease. After several surgeries, multiple doctors began prescribing opioids for Michael, and he became addicted. When help was not available to him, he took his own life.
Michael’s tragic story is detailed here.
Since Michael’s death, Avi and Julie Israel have devoted their lives to fighting for resources for people like Michael. Their organization, “Save the Michaels,” raises awareness of prescription and other drug addictions. Save the Michaels House of Hope and Community Resources supports families during their loved one's journey through addiction and into remission.
Just days before the settlement funds were added to the general fund, Israel and other advocates for drug treatment and prevention rallied at the State Capital to urge lawmakers to ensure that all money coming to New York state from opioid settlement funds would be spent on drug treatment and prevention.
They were to be disappointed.
Out of the $32 million in settlement funding that will be claimed by New York, $11 million will be spent on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in prisons. The balance will go into the general fund.
“To basically ignore the instruction that came with this money and just say, ‘to hell with it, we’re just going to take this money and put it into the general fund,' it means that parents like myself, Julie and I, our loss does not mean anything to this governor,” Israel told Capital Tonight.
Last week, Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the Division of the Budget emailed this statement about the funding to Capital Tonight:
“New York State has fought hard to ensure those who prospered from the opioid crisis pay a price that offsets the costs of combatting it and all $28 million the state will receive from this settlement in Fiscal Year 2022 is dedicated to combatting addiction and save lives as directed by the legislature in the budget they passed this month, including $11 million to increase support for medication assisted treatment in state prisons, and $1.25 million to restore funding for syringe exchange programs and for the purchase of naloxone to combat overdoses. Meanwhile, the federal government is adding $105 million to the effort to combat addiction in New York over the next two years.”
Not good enough, according to Senator Pete Harckham, chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
“No administration should have the ability to use opioid settlement to supplant state aid rather than to supplement the effort,” said Harckham. “We must pass legislation to ensure an ironclad, incremental lockbox for future settlement funds.”
The legislation, which Avi Israel and other advocates support, is sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera, but according to Senator Harckham, multiple members of the Senate are working on the bill, which he discussed with Capital Tonight.