VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to ensure any money that comes from settlements with opioid companies will go into a designated fund.
Money from the “Opioid Settlement Fund” would be allocated specifically to efforts addressing opioid use disorder across the state.
The bill comes at a time when many opioid companies are being brought to court. One of the biggest opioid trials in New York’s history started on Monday, the first nationwide to be decided by a jury. Last week, Johnson & Johnson announced a settlement with New York in which the company would pay $230 million and promised to exit the opioid industry completely.
Advocates and lawmakers in favor of the bill originally worried that incoming settlement money could end up in the general fund, where it is not necessarily required to be spent on opioid use disorder treatment and prevention.
In February, around $21 million in settlement money from McKinsey & Company—the consulting firm that worked with Purdue Pharma—was diverted to the state’s general fund. Some treatment providers felt that allowed for too much flexibility in how the money would be spent.
The legislation enacted ensures settlement funds will be put directly toward addressing the opioid crisis.
“It’s important that these companies pay up,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo.
Lupardo, whose district covers Broome County, co-sponsored the bill that created the opioid settlement fund. She said it was essential that the money goes to the causes for which it was intended.
“We have to invest in the whole spectrum of care, from education and prevention to early intervention, right through to treatment and to after care,” Lupardo said. “If we miss one piece, we’re really missing the boat.”
An advisory committee will determine how the money is distributed throughout the state.
Alexis Pleus, the executive director of TruthPharm, a nonprofit organization that advocates for people with substance use disorders, argued the money should be used to fund harm reduction measures as well as prevention and treatment.
“If we had done that, people would still be alive today, and so that’s what this funding will do,” Pleus said.
Increased funding could help, she added, the distribution of overdose-reversing medicines, such as naloxone, commonly sold as Narcan. Pleus said putting resources toward that could potentially save lives.
“The overdose epidemic could have ended ten years ago—my son might be alive—if they had actually put money into stopping what was happening,” Pleus said, “Put new funding in and save lives, provide treatment, give access to harm reduction services.”