Opioid-related deaths have been on the rise across the nation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 2019 through May 2020 set the record for the most drug overdose deaths in a single year.
For this reason, county leaders across New York are preparing to use money the state has recently collected from settlements with opioid drug manufacturers for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.
“We owe it to the next generation to forever end the cycle of dependency created through opioids and opioid derivative dependency, which has left too many people dead, too many lives cut short and too much sorrow for their families,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties.
Albany County logged more drug overdose deaths in 2020 than in any recent year, according to Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.
And Erie County in 2020 saw a 50% increase of drug overdose deaths from 2019.
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill called the “Opioid Settlement Fund Lockbox,” which will require any money secured from settlements with opioid manufactures be spent on substance abuse prevention, education and treatment.
This comes just in time, as the state attorney general’s office settled major lawsuits against at least two large pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma.
Both settlements will direct more than $200 million each to the state.
“We intend to work with the attorney general, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to ensure that a proper regional balance is put in place so that all counties of the state, whether you're in Orleans County, Allegheny County, Chemung County, Broome County, or on Long Island or in the City of New York, all can have better treatment, prevention and recovery programs,” Acquario said.
The State Association of Counties and the State Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners revamped a video campaign aimed at raising awareness about the warning signs of possible opiate addiction.
Scott Schmidt, president of New York State Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners, says money from the settlement fund is needed not only to help connect people to resources available, but also for personnel and specialized kits that can test for synthetic drugs like fentanyl.
"These are funds that are desperately needed…and this money is going to tremendously help move us forward in eradicating this terrible epidemic and unnecessary deaths because everyone around our board table, everyone in our association, is tired of burying our friends, our neighbors, our family because of this thing,” Schmidt said.