AG announces opioid settlement

Standing in Plattsburgh on Friday, State Attorney General Letitia James announced up to $14.5 million will be given to the north country to expand treatment and education to combat opioid deaths after James helped negotiate multiple settlements from major drug manufacturers and consulting firms for their role in the opioid epidemic. Courtesy of Attorney General Letitia James’s office

PLATTSBURGH — Up to $14.5 million will expand education, treatment, and outreach in the north country in the coming months to prevent opioid-related deaths after state Attorney General Letitia James negotiated multiple settlements from 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 historic 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 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.

“Recovery starts here,” James said Friday afternoon outside MHab Enterprises Life Skills Campus in Plattsburgh. “It’s time to turn to turn the tide on the opioid crisis, the opioid epidemic. It’s time to heal New Yorkers and to heal all families.”

James, a Democrat, continued her statewide HealNY tour in the north country Friday after starting dozens of stops across New York’s 10 regions this week to deliver up to $1.5 billion in damages.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill ensuring any funds secured in opioid settlements or litigation victories will not go to the state’s general fund, and must be spent for prevention eduction, additional beds, staffers to help those struggling with addiction and more to fill the void of available treatment to address the crisis.

More than 5,100 New Yorkers, and 90,000 Americans, died from a preventable overdose in 2020, marking the worst year on record.

About 750,000 Americans have died from an overdose-related death in the last 20 years — six times higher than the number of American deaths in battle since World War I, making the opioid epidemic deadlier than any modern foreign adversary.

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.

“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 Attorney General 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 Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

The state could receive more in damages. The trial against two remaining defendants — Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and Allergan Finance — continues in state court in Suffolk County.

The cases of Mallinckrodt and Rochester Drug Cooperative are each moving through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“Enough is enough,” said Assemblymember Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh. “We’ve lost too many people to this. I know that money can’t heal everything, but it will help our treatment specialists, our providers and their families that have been affected by this so hopefully, we can say ‘People will never have to go through this again.’”

In other parts of the region, Clinton County is slated to receive $718,500 to $1.2 million; with $317,373 to $548,012 reserved for Essex County; $395,192 to $682,384 in Franklin County and $26,155 to $45,163 in Hamilton County from the settlements with Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen and Endo.

The figures do not include payments from Purdue Pharma or the Sackler family negotiated this summer, as the regional split for those payments continue to be finalized. Those funds, as well as any funds from future or ongoing litigation, will be an additional award.

“The widespread availability and misuse of opioids fueled an alarming epidemic over the past decade,” said Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury. “Too many lives have been shattered by addiction. While a lot has been learned and progress has been made to help people, much more support is needed for the frontline agencies and the dedicated and caring men and women who are working so hard to help struggling individuals and their families overcome addiction and to build much better lives in the process. This funding is absolutely critical, and I thank Attorney General James for ensuring it reaches our communities.”

These manufacturers and distributors heavily marketed opioids to doctors, hospitals, health care systems and others, which led to the over-prescription of the drugs across the state and nation over the last two decades, according to James’s office.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed five bills into law in New York City on Thursday to decriminalize syringes, and expand access to medicated assisted treatment for incarcerated people and increase public access to opioid overdose reversal drugs, like Naloxone.

The state Legislature will appoint a committee responsible for distributing settlement funds.

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