Millions of dollars are heading to the north country to help combat a scourge that has taken the lives of hundreds of residents in the region.
The money is not intended to fight COVID-19 but an existing problem that health officials say has only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic: opioid addiction. State Attorney General Letitia A. James announced earlier this month that the state has negotiated multiple settlements with major drug manufacturers and consulting firms for their role in the opioid epidemic.
The north country will receive between $8 million and $14.5 million across its seven counties from five settlements after James’s March 2019 lawsuit against six manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid crisis.
Jefferson County will receive between $1.1 million and $1.9 million; $1 million to $1.8 million will go to St. Lawrence County; and between $216,993 to $374,684 will be awarded to Lewis County between the end of the year and early 2022, depending on the number of localities that vote to accept the terms of five multi-state settlements.
James portrayed the settlement as a reckoning for companies that she claims put profits ahead of people, helping to fuel an opioid epidemic that has left few communities across the state and country untouched.
At an Oct. 8 press event in Plattsburgh, James recalled making a promise to sobbing parents, grandparents and loved ones in front of open caskets of New Yorkers who died after their struggle with opioid addiction, according to a story published Oct. 8 by the Watertown Daily Times.
“I made a commitment to them Big Pharma would pay for the tragedy that they caused,” James said. “It’s a great day, but it comes at the end of a long night of suffering, of loss, of individuals whose lives have been shattered as a result of the opioid crisis. And right now, someone in America is misusing a painkiller for the first time — someone who simply went into a dentist for toothache. ... Right now, someone is dying of an overdose. And right now in this state, someone is burying their child or watching a loved one sink further and further into despair.”
The manufacturers named in James’s complaint included Purdue Pharma and its affiliates, members of the Sackler Family who own Purdue and trusts they control: Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates, including its parent company Johnson & Johnson; Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates; Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance LLC and its affiliates.
The distributors named in the complaint were McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corp. and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.
More than 5,100 New Yorkers and 90,000 Americans died from a preventable overdose in 2020, marking the worst year on record. The money earmarked for the north country will not assuage the loss of lives this area has experienced due to opioids or the pain associated addictions have caused users, their families and society.
But deployed wisely, the settlement money can aid in avoiding future tragedies. The north country has numerous agencies dedicated to preventing and treating addiction, frequently pooling resources to present a combined front in the battle to rid the area of illicit or overprescribed drugs.
The settlement money can give these frontline agencies another much-needed tool in their chest. As each north country county prepares to receive its settlement allotment, these agencies are encouraged to continue their collaboration, often across county lines, to plan how to best allocate these funds for the highest and most effective use to bring an end to this preventable scourge that plagues our communities.