Attorney General James Appoints Western New York Resident to Opioids Settlement Board

Avi Israel, President and Founder of Save the Michaels of the World, Will Make
Recommendations on How Up to $1.5 Billion in Opioid Settlement Funds Will Be Spent

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the appointment of Avi Israel as her pick to sit on the state’s Opioid Settlement Board, which will help distribute up to $1.5 billion to communities across New York state to invest in opioid prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. Israel is the president and founder of Save the Michaels of the World, Inc. and the father of Michael Israel, who lost a battle to opioid addiction 10 years ago. Pursuant to the new law establishing the opioid settlement fund, all funds collected by the state from opioid settlements or litigation victories will be allocated specifically for abatement efforts in communities devastated by the opioid epidemic and will not go towards the state’s general fund. The law also granted Attorney General James the authority to pick one individual to serve on the Opioid Settlement Board, which makes recommendations to the state Legislature on how programs across the state will receive funds.

“I cannot imagine a harder thing than burying one’s child, but Avi Israel took his pain and channeled it into something incredible that has helped countless New Yorkers and their families battle opioid addiction,” said Attorney General James. “No one is more qualified in my eyes than Avi Israel to sit on the Opioid Settlement Board and help make recommendations on where these funds should go. The up to $1.5 billion in funding that we have already secured will be vital in helping to invest in prevention, treatment, and recovery programs, and will stop thousands of additional New Yorkers from becoming addicted to opioids. While no amount of money will ever make up for all that we have collectively lost, if we save even one more Michael of the world, it will be worth it.”

“Ten years ago, we lost our son Michael to suicide. He was prescribed in to addiction because of Crohn’s disease,” said Israel. “Since hearing our story, Attorney General James stepped up and held pharmaceutical companies accountable for misleading the public by making them pay more than $1 billion. Together, we have helped to create an account dedicated to the victims of opioids addiction and that will help stop future devastation. I am extremely honored to be asked by Attorney General James to serve on the Opioids Settlement Board. While the funds that will be allocated by this board will never bring my boy back, or any of the other victims lost to addiction, it will help all New Yorkers suffering from this horrible disease. I will make sure every single person gets a chance at life without addiction.”

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, as well as 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 were McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

In September, a settlement with Endo was announced that has already delivered $50 million to New York state and Nassau and Suffolk counties to combat the opioid crisis and removed the opioid manufacturer from New York’s ongoing opioid trial.

Also, in September, a settlement that secured more than $4.5 billion — at least $200 million of which will be earmarked for New York — from the Sackler family and foundations that they control, ends the Sacklers’ ability to manufacture opioids ever again, and will shut down Purdue Pharma was announced.

In July, a settlement with McKesson, Cardinal Health, and Amerisource Bergen that will deliver up to $1 billion to New York state to combat the opioid epidemic was announced.

In June, a settlement that ended Johnson & Johnson’s sale of opioids nationwide and that will deliver $230 million to New York alone was announced.

The deals with Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and Amerisource Bergen have a global value of approximately $26 billion.

The cases against Mallinckrodt and Rochester Drug Cooperative are now moving separately through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The trial against the two remaining defendants — Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and Allergan Finance — is currently underway and continues in state court.

The funds from all these settlements will be distributed to all 62 counties in New York state. Last month, Attorney General James embarked on a tour across the state where she announced how much funding each county across the state will receive from the opioid settlement fund. The Opioid Settlement Board will make specific recommendations to the state Legislature on the programs within each county that should receive funding.

About Avi Israel

Avi Israel and his wife, Julie, decided they didn't want to see other families suffer the loss of a loved one. The journey started with an interview with a Buffalo News reporter who told Michael's story. That story got more attention from TV stations. Doctors, patients, parents, and the population are not aware of the danger of opiate addiction.

Since then, Save the Michaels of the World has taken on a life of its own. A grassroots effort was started to change the laws in New York state. Families who have lost their own beloved children and family members to prescribed addictions were brought together to share their stories and photos, as well as to create a dedicated group of devoted friends. Letters and emails were sent to state senators and assemblymembers to encourage them to support the Michael David Israel laws and the I-Stop legislation, the internet system tracking over prescribing.

After many trips and meetings to the state capitol, the I-Stop Bill was starting to gain support. On June 11, 2012, this legislation passed unanimously in both houses. Success was due to the determination of Avi Israel and others who would not take no for an answer.

Israel also testified before a U.S. Senate committee and appeared before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) several times, along with others, in hopes of convincing the FDA's Safety Advisory committee to up the schedule of hydrocodone analgesics from schedule 3 drugs to schedule 2 drugs. The safety committee agreed that this medication was not safe and voted in favor of upping the schedule. After a year of delay, the FDA finally agreed to up the schedule of hydrocodone to a schedule 2 drug.

“Avi Israel and his wife, Julie, have turned the incredible pain they went through with the loss of Michael into help for so many families in western New York,” said U.S. Representative Brian Higgins. “Attorney General James’ selection of Avi Israel will provide the Opioid Settlement Board with a strong voice for so many families who know first-hand the community needs and personal challenges of dealing with addiction.”

“Congratulations to Avi Israel on being appointed to the Opioid Settlement Board by Attorney General Letitia James,” said State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Avi has passionately represented families and led local and statewide advocacy efforts for years while now providing services connecting patients and their families to available services through his organization, Save the Michaels of the World. I applaud Attorney General James’ efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable and for making more than $1 billion in settlement resources available to treat existing patients, educate families, and protect future generations.”

“There is no better advocate for those who suffer with opioid addiction than Avi Israel,” said State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. “For years, he has been a fierce fighter for expanded treatment and recovery services for all New Yorkers struggling with addiction. I applaud the decision to appoint Avi to the Opioid Settlement Board, and know that he will have a tremendous impact as we continue our efforts to address the opioid crisis here in New York.”

“Avi Israel and his team at Save the Michaels of the World have been a beacon of hope for so many families, channeling loss into not only advocacy, but into providing real, transformative rehabilitation, and supportive resources for those who need it most,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy. “In this role, I know Avi will be a strong voice for western New York and for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who continue to be impacted by this devastating crisis.”

“Avi has been a strong advocate in our community and I’m proud to have worked closely with him on addressing the opioid crisis,” said State Assemblymember Bill Conrad. “His efforts have been pivotal in helping to bring light to the struggles that so many have faced, and he and his organization have provided tremendous relief to countless people during their darkest hours. I can’t think of a more qualified person to represent our community on the state Opioid Settlement Board.”

“Thank you to Attorney General James for appointing Avi Israel to the state Opioid Settlement Board,” said State Assemblymember Monica Wallace. “Avi has been a tireless advocate for those struggling with addiction. He knows their pain and the pain of loved ones seeking to help them. Avi will help ensure that the opioid settlement funds will go where they are most needed and where they are most effective, and he will be an advocate for western New York families dealing with addiction.”

“Shortly after becoming attorney general, Letitia James met with families impacted by the opioid epidemic at Save the Michaels of the World in Buffalo,” said Buffalo Councilmember Joel Feroleto. “She listened to their stories and promised to be in their corner. Avi Israel's appointment to the Opioid Settlement Board is an outstanding choice. Avi's advocacy has been instrumental in many ways, from legislation to proactive uses of the opioid settlement funds, and I congratulate Attorney General James on this outstanding selection.”

“Drug Crisis in Our Backyard is excited to have an advocate who has experienced the loss of a child on the state Opioid Settlement Board,” said Susan Salomone, executive director, Drug Crisis in Our Backyard. “Through Avi Israel’s passionate leadership, we were able to accomplish our goal of securing the opioid settlement funds in a separate account used specifically for treatment, recovery, and prevention. Congratulations, Avi!”

“I'm beyond grateful that Attorney General James held pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers accountable and worked with the New York state Legislature to pass an awesome law keeping the monies out of the general fund, and now she is putting one of the best advocates I know on the board,” said Ashley Livingston, co-chair, Friends of Recovery Warren & Washington. “I cannot thank the attorney general enough. Avi understands all too well that this is blood money; I know that he will ensure that this money is used to save lives so that no more parents have to join the club him and his wife and countless other New York parents had to join!”

“There couldn’t be a better appointment than Avi Israel for the Opioid Settlement Board, making sure opioid settlement funds money is used wisely, judiciously, and evenly across the four areas of need: prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services,” said Dennis Gregg, co-founder, Heroin Epidemic Action League (HEAL) Madison and Onondaga County. “Avi’s dedication to this effort, since the day he lost his dear son Michael to this epidemic, has been an inspiration to all of us who have suffered a great loss or have been caught up in this horrific epidemic, or both. Avi is a difference maker and he will now have the opportunity to make an even greater difference! That is good news for all of us!”

“I am gratified to know that Avi Israel will be representing the needs of patients, families, and treatment providers on the Opioid Settlement Board,” said Anne D. Constantino, president and CEO, Horizon Health Services. “His perspective as a family member and as someone that works daily on the frontlines is critical to assure that this important new resource is targeted for maximum effectiveness.”

“I applaud Attorney General James for her diligent representation of New York families and people in recovery and, especially, for the appointment of my friend and fellow advocate, Avi Israel, to the state Opioid Settlement Board,” said Linda Ventura, president and founder, Thomas’ Hope Foundation Inc. “Mr. Israel has a passion to represent people struggling, as well as the families and loved ones that suffer with the effects of their loved one’s disease. This settlement money is blood money on every person who died of opioid overdose and to those still struggling with substance use disorder. Mr. Israel will be our voice to ensure that these funds are utilized to create recovery housing, transportation within the system, and educational and vocational opportunities. I know that Avi Israel carries my son, Thomas, in his heart, and his actions always resonate from that place of love and respect.”

Separately, but related to her work on opioids, this past 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 in an agreement and consent judgment with McKinsey & Company.

In the Office of the New York Attorney General, opioid negotiations were led by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy, Senior Advisor and Special Counsel M. Umair Khan, and former Counsel for Opioids and Impact Litigation David Nachman. The settlements were also brought about by the work led by Senior Enforcement Counsel John Oleske and Assistant Attorney General Monica Hanna, as well as Assistant Attorneys General Conor Duffy, Carol Hunt, Diane Johnston, Leo O’Toole, Jeremy Pfetsch, Noah Popp, Larry Reina, Michael Reisman, Lois Saldana, and Louis Testa; Project Attorneys Wil Handley, Stephanie Torre, and Eve Woodin; Paralegal Ketty Dautruche; Legal Assistant David Payne; Director of Research and Analytics Jonathan Werberg; Data Scientist Gautam Sisodia; Data Analyst Anushua Choudhury; Information Technology Specialists Hewson Chen and Paige Podolny; and E-Discovery Document Review Specialist Kristin Petrella.