By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
ALBANY — Albany County will receive $1.6 million and the Capital District will get $5.7 million as a result of a settlement with several pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids, state Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday.
James held a press conference on Zoom with Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy and City of Albany Treasurer Darius Shahinfar to make the announcement.
The attorney general made similar announcements in different regions of the state, announcing the disbursement of funds from the settlement.
Additional funds are expected to be allocated in the future, James added.
“The Capital Region will receive $5.7 million, Albany County $1.6 million and the City of Albany $118,000, and more monies are scheduled to come,” James said. “This is just the first traunch in several settlements that will go to address the opioid crisis and it will be used primarily for treatment, education and prevention.”
The settlement was the result of a multi-state lawsuit alleging that several major pharmaceutical companies fueled the opioid epidemic.
The funds will be used to help address the opioid crisis that has plagued the state and nation for years, McCoy said.
“This is going to help us in the county,” McCoy said. “Our mobile outreach treatment and overdose response team tries to get to a scene right away to educate the families on their options, what they can do to get their loved one into recovery.”
The problems generated by the opioid epidemic are wide ranging, McCoy said.
“One thing we never highlight a lot is the effect of birth defects that drug addiction has had on parents and kids that will last a long time with learning disabilities, underdeveloped lungs, dyslexia, whatever the situation might be,” McCoy said. “These are issues that we are faced with in the country that we will be dealing with, or withdrawals that babies have had because they were born with their parents using prescription drugs, or drugs in general. This is really going to help with education and with outreach.”
The attorney general said reversing the trend of overdoses and getting fentanyl off the streets is critical.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, and is sometimes added to other opioids to magnify their effects, “which often results in overdose deaths,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Shahinfar said the opioid crisis has had a substantial impact, including financial repercussions.
“This leads to an increased need for city and county services, and resources to deal with the problems of regional drug addiction, which leads to increased taxpayer costs for cities,” Shahinfar said.
“It’s a rising number of police calls to deal with individuals and a rising number of people who need direct services from mental health and from drug addiction services in our cities, and it costs money,” he added. “Big Pharma played a big hand in causing these problems and it’s good to see them being held accountable and help pay for them.”
The litigation and resulting settlement led to several pharmaceutical companies filing bankruptcy or closing down altogether.
“In the settlement, some companies including, but not limited to, Purdue [Pharma], are out of business and a number of other companies have filed bankruptcy,” James said Tuesday. “We are holding them accountable for their actions. We received a significant amount of resources to address the scourge of opioids and to address the devastation and the destruction that they have caused to the great state of New York. In addition to that, a number of companies have admitted their wrongdoing.”
James said her office is also in discussions with lawmakers to address the overprescription of opioids to patients.
The funds will help address the effects of the opioid epidemic, but the roots of the problem are deep, James added.
“It’s an entrenched problem,” James said. “No amount of money will ever make up for the loss of life, but nonetheless these funds will go a long way to prevent this crisis from happening again as we continue to work with the state Legislature as well as with members of Congress to address overprescriptions in society, and more importantly, to focus these funds primarily on treatment, education and prevention.”
The total amount of the settlement as of Tuesday was $1.5 billion, but more allocations are expected in the future, James said.