Attorney General James Applauds Passage of Bill Creating Opioid Settlement Fund

Legislation Will Ensure Funds Recovered from Opioid Litigation
and Settlements 
Will Go Towards Opioid Abatement and Treatment

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today applauded the passage of bills by both chambers of the state legislature — S.7194 and A.6395B — that will ensure “all funds received by the state as the result of a settlement or a judgment in litigation against opioid manufacturers, distributors, dispensers, consultants, or resellers shall be deposited into [an] opioid settlement fund, and that such funds shall not supplant or replace existing state funding.” 

“Our state took a big step today in our efforts to end the opioid epidemic and provide justice to its victims by passing new legislation that will ensure funds recovered from opioid settlements and litigation will go where they’re needed — to fund prevention, education, and treatment programs,” said Attorney General James. “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 bill ensures funds are used to prevent any future devastation. I thank Senator Rivera and Assemblymember Woerner, as well as the county and local governments, advocates, service providers, and families for working to get this bill across the finish line.”

In March 2019, Attorney General James filed the nation’s most extensive lawsuit to hold accountable the various manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid epidemic. The manufacturers named in the complaint included Purdue Pharma and its affiliates, members of the Sackler Family (owners of 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 are McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

The cases against Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt, and Rochester Drug Cooperative are all now in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, but the trial against all other defendants is slated to begin in a matter of weeks, on June 22, 2021.

Additionally, just a few months ago, in February, Attorney General James co-led a coalition of nearly every attorney general in the nation in delivering more than $573 million — more than $32 million of which was earmarked for New York state — toward opioid treatment and abatement to stem the opioid crisis that has ravaged families across the country in an agreement and consent judgment with McKinsey & Company. The agreement with one of the world’s largest consulting firms resolved investigations by the attorneys general into the company’s role in working for opioid companies, helping those companies promote their drugs, and profiting millions of dollars from the opioid epidemic. The funds from the agreement were to be used towards abating the effects of excessive opioid use in the participating states, however, New York’s current law does not allow or enable for distribution of settlement funds in this manner, which is why today’s legislation was necessary.

“New York state is taking an enormous step in our fight to end the opioid epidemic by passing my bill to create a secure opioid settlement fund,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, one of the bill's sponsors. “Unfortunately, programs that address the needs of individuals who use drugs, including those providing prevention, harm reduction, mental health, substance use disorder treatment, and housing, have been struggling for years from budget cuts and increased costs. I want to thank Attorney General James for spearheading our state's righteous efforts to hold these manufacturers accountable and empower the programs and services that serve as a lifeline to so many New Yorkers navigating the difficult and complex journey that is substance use disorder.”

“For too long the fight in the ongoing crisis in opioid overdoses has been underfunded, so additional resources are much needed for future education, prevention, and treatment efforts,” said State Senator Pete Harckham, chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “But the only way to truly safeguard these funds is with legislation that creates a lockbox for opioid settlement money, with substance treatment providers and affected families being the sole beneficiaries. I want to thank Attorney General James for her leadership in securing the settlements, and also my colleague Senator Rivera for his work in getting this legislation introduced and passed.”

“The passage of the opioid settlement bill is the next step in combating the harm caused to individuals and families by the opioid epidemic,” said State Senator Jeremy Cooney. “Through these dedicated funds from lawsuit settlements, we can make sure they are used where they're most needed — rehabilitation programs and services and education — so that our community can begin the process of healing.” 

“Addiction continues to cause devastation in every corner of New York state. This bill sets out mechanics to battle the harm caused by opioid addiction,” said State Assemblymember Carrie Woerner, one of the bill's sponsors. “We created the Opioid Settlement Fund, and established a statewide board of experts to recommend programs to invest in, to ensure that funds recovered by New York from the manufacturers of these harmful drugs are invested in effective services to prevent addiction, reduce harm from addiction, and sustain people in recovery.”

“The Assembly majority is committed to getting New Yorkers struggling with addiction the treatments and services they need,” said State Assemblymember Phil Steck. “Our communities and families have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic. By creating the opioid settlement fund, we will ensure the money from these settlements goes to programs and services that provide support for prevention programs and those who are struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders.”

“On behalf of our family and our son, Michael, who we lost to the disease of addiction, we thank the Senate and Assembly for doing the right thing in passing this legislation. We especially want to thank Attorney General James for fulfilling the promise she made to the families of New York state who have suffered a great loss to protect these funds,” said Avi and Julie Israel. “Michael and all the kids we lost are smiling down upon us.”

“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” said Tracie Gardner, vice president of Public Policy, Legal Action Center. “Its enactment will enable the establishment of a state opioid settlement fund and guidelines to ensure that dollars from forthcoming lawsuits go directly to treatment, prevention, recovery, and harm reduction efforts in our state — and, crucially, without supplanting funds already directed to such efforts. With the latest data showing nearly 90,000 lives lost to overdose in the 12 months ending August 2020, it is clear that we must expand and enhance all efforts to address this deadly crisis. Furthermore, given the disproportionate rate of overdose among communities of color, in particular Black men, we urge the state to use this opportunity to focus the funds on addressing racial disparities within the epidemic.”

“With leadership from Majority Leader Stewart Cousins, Speaker Heastie, Senator Rivera, and Assemblywoman Woerner, the Legislature has taken a giant step that will directly address the consequences of irresponsible corporate behavior: deaths, overdoses, and an epidemic of addiction,” said John Coppola, executive director, Association of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (ASAP). “It is critical that these funds are used to strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services across New York state. This legislation will ensure that New York does not repeat the mistakes made with tobacco settlement funds.”

“Drug Crisis in Our Backyard has been advocating to protect opioid settlement funds,” said Susan Salomone, executive director, Drug Crisis in Our Backyard. “These funds must be used for recovery support, treatment, and prevention. We are thankful to the attorney general and to the legislators who helped move this bill forward.”

“Friends of Recovery - New York represents the New York state recovery community comprised of people with lived experience and family members who have lost loved ones,” said Dr. Angelia Smith-Wilson, executive director, Friends of Recovery – New York. “We are so pleased that our efforts to ensure funding coming into the state of New York is secured for addiction services and support, offering some reprieve for the lives lost and the families destroyed by the opioid epidemic. We applaud, first and foremost, the tenacious advocates, as well as Attorney General Letitia James and leadership in the Assembly and Senate for putting those impacted first to make this legislation happen. We will be continuing to raise the voice of those impacted to ensure this legislation is signed into law.”

“If not for Narcan I would be one of the many lives Big Pharma took, as many of my friends have lost their lives,” said Ashley Livingston, a person in recovery and co-chair, Friends of Recovery Warren & Washington. “While this fund will not bring back the lives that have been lost, I'm grateful New York has ensured this money will be invested in saving lives!”

“These lawsuits are very personal to my family as my 19-year-old son Harris misused opioids and died by accidental overdose in 2013,” said Stephanie Marquesano, founder, The Harris Project. “Our collective efforts to get the right treatment for his addiction and mental health challenges — co-occurring disorders — failed because the system was not designed to meet his needs. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of the attorney general and the New York state Legislature, these bills will ensure that the funds are used to address prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery of substance use disorder AND co-occurring disorders that will benefit all New Yorkers. To save lives and improve outcomes, I urge the governor to immediately sign this into law.”

“On March 23, 2015, my stepdaughter Holland became a casualty of the opioid epidemic and of a broken treatment system,” said Dennis Gregg, co-founder, Heroin Epidemic Action League (HEAL) Madison County and HEAL Onondaga County. “This legislation will be a game changer and will help us fix the system and to place more emphasis on recovery, a place Holland was, tragically, never able to find. Thank you to the attorney general for all of her hard work!”

“As a front line treatment provider, we have witnessed the suffering of individuals and families that have been impacted by the opioid crisis,” said Anne D. Constantino, president and CEO, Horizon Health Services. “We are extremely grateful for the successful efforts of the attorney general, the Legislature, the advocates, and the families to direct opioid settlement funds into a special account that will be targeted towards efforts to support prevention, harm reduction, and needed treatment and support. No doubt that these new resources will have a tremendous, positive impact in our community.”

“Today marks a major turning point in the battle against the opioid epidemic that has been raging through our state and nation, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and heartache, long before the emergence COVID-19,” said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director, New York State Association of Counties. “This legislation will pave the way to begin the process of healing and recovery by ensuring that any funds received by the state are used to support drug treatment and prevention efforts. I commend Attorney General James for her strength and vigilance in pursuing this outcome, Governor Cuomo for his decades of commitment to fighting the scourge of substance use disorders, and our counties for their dogged determination to bring these cases forward in search of justice and resources to set their communities on the path to recovery. I also commend the state Legislature for their foresight in passing this legislation in advance of the trial so that an agreement can be reached that directs funding expressly for prevention, treatment, and recovery programs and services.”

“I applaud Attorney General James for her diligent representation of New York state families and people in recovery against the opioid manufacturers,” said Linda Ventura, president and founder, Thomas' Hope Foundation. “I also want to thank the state Assembly and the state Senate for passing the same bills in both houses during this legislative session so that settlement money goes directly to support prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and, especially, recovery services, and not to the general fund of New York state. Settlement money is BLOOD money on every person who died of opioid overdose and to those still struggling with substance use disorder. Governor Cuomo, SIGN THE BILL. Let my son Thomas' death be MORE meaningful to the next person recovering.”