Discarded syringes on a Mott Haven street serve as a reminder of the epidemic at home. Photo: Kalah Siegel

New laws direct funds from lawsuits to war on opioids

New York State has passed new legislation requiring any money won by the state in opioid lawsuits be used to create new support programs to combat drug addiction, the Attorney General’s office announced in a press release. 

Two bills were introduced to both the State Assembly and Senate in early June requiring the State of New York to place any funds it receives from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers or distributors be placed in a state fund for creating new programs for state-wide preventative education, abuse treatment programs, and housing services.

The bills passed unanimously and was signed into law on Tuesday by Governor Cuomo.

Attorney General Letia James applauded the bill’s success in a press release on Wednesday. 

“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 law ensures funds are used to prevent any future devastation,” said James.

The Attorney General filed a major lawsuit against opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma and its affiliates, including pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, in March 2019. While other lawsuits against other Purdue Affiliates are still being fought in court, Johnson & Johnson agreed to a settlement payment of $230 million, but according to the original agreement, the company will pay more in scheduled payments this year now that these bills have passed. 

It is now up to the State Comptroller and the Commissioner of Taxation and Finance to decide where the funds are spent. The bill provides that any agency overseeing harm reduction initiatives in line with current state laws may be eligible, and mentions the Department of Health and The Division of Housing and Community Renewal as potential candidates. 

The South Bronx has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, with higher rates of overdoses, deaths, and treatment admissions than anywhere else in the city, according to data from the Office of Addiction Services and Support. 

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