State lawmakers on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill creating a dedicated fund for opioid settlement money in New York, addressing the flow of millions of dollars in judgments for companies that were deemed to have played a role in the nationwide epidemic. 

The bill addresses a concern advocates for substance abuse efforts in New York had raised: The money coming to New York from major settlements would not be guaranteed to be directed toward treatment programs in the state budget. 

The agreement also comes amid a sharp rise in overdose deaths over the last year nationwide, coinciding with the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Too many lives have been devastated because of the disease of addiction. Too many parents have lost children to the disease of opioid addiction," said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. "By creating the Opioid Settlement Fund, and establishing a statewide board of experts to recommend programs to invest in, the Legislature will ensure that funds recovered by New York from the manufacturers of these harmful drugs are invested in effective services to prevent addiction, reduce harm from addiction, and sustain people in recovery."

New York Attorney General Letitia James's office led a multi-state coalition to secure a $573 settlement from consulting firm McKinsey & Company in February. New York's share was $32 million. But more court action is expected. The case against Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt, and Rochester Drug Cooperative are all now in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. A trial against all other defendants is set to begin on June 21.

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state, or provide solace to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, this bill ensures funds are used to prevent any future devastation," James said in a statement. 

The push to create the dedicated fund for treatment programs was driven by advocates for stemming the tide of opioid addiction in New York, who had pointed to the state's history of diverting money from tobacco companies away from smoking cessation programs.

“It is critical that these funds are used to strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services across New York state," said John Coppola, the executive director of the Association of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State. "This legislation will ensure that New York does not repeat the mistakes made with tobacco settlement funds."