EDITORIAL: Report, settlement, spending recommendations put focus on opioid crisis

Fentanyl pills seized in Ohio.
Fentanyl pills seized in Ohio.

Three bits of news this week put the spotlight on the state’s drug crisis and on the critical need for solutions.

On Tuesday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released the results of an analysis by his office on the state of the opioid crisis during the covid pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 68% to nearly 5,000 individuals. The most recent surge, the comptroller’s office said, was due largely to the growth of illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

When combining deaths from opioids and all other drugs, the 2021 death count of 5,841 surpassed the previous record number of deaths, set in 2017, by more than 1,700.

On Thursday, state Attorney General Letitia James announced that Teva Pharmaceuticals North America had agreed to pay the state up to $523 million to resolve financial claims and settle civil litigation for its role in the opioid crisis. The state will get $313 million from the New York settlement over 18 years and another $210 million over 13 years as part of a nationwide settlement that Teva announced earlier this year.

The company also agreed to a ban on high-dose opioids and prescription savings programs, and restrictions on political lobbying.

With the number of people dying of overdoses on the rise, the state can’t afford to wait to put the settlement money to work addressing the issue.

That brings us to the third bit of news.

On Monday, the state’s new Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board offered its first set of recommendations for how to allocate $128 million in settlement funds already recovered. The board recommended that 22% of that money be used for harm reduction to directly save lives, 12% for treatment services, 16% to boost the workforce to help with addiction services. Another $6 million would go for transportation to help get addicts to treatment services.

The recommendations still must be reviewed by state agencies and state lawmakers, who would offer input to the advisory board, which would compile a final report for the governor’s approval in about a month.

Often these types of reports and recommendations for spending money get bogged down by bureaucratic delays.

Given the urgency of this crisis, the faster this money gets to the people who can put it to work helping victims, the faster we can begin to bring down those horrific numbers.

This is no time for New York government to be New York government.

Lives are at stake. Many lives.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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