Remember that first astronomical opioid settlement? Do you recall how it was supposed to fund a vast array of addiction treatment and prevention programs? Well, that's not the case. Not in New York State anyway. Where $32 million went toward helping exactly zero opioid addicts.
Okay, that's not entirely true. $11 million of that hard won money went toward maintaining the state prison's Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program. But New York's been shouldering that expense for eons; there's no reason why it's now being covered by opioid settlement money. And there's certainly no reason for the other $21 million to go straight into the state's general fund.
Yet that's just what happened. And that's just what's being reported in the Buffalo News by Staff Reporter Mark Sommer. Sommer did more than simply follow the money though; he also tracked down those whose tragic losses helped secure the settlements in the first place.
One of those was Avi Israel. Israel is the founder and president of Save the Michaels of the World, a Buffalo-based drug treatment program that is named for -- and in memory of -- his son. Michael had committed suicide back in 2014. The main reason? He could not get into a treatment facility.
"All that money is blood money," Israel told Sommer. "That money is coming to the state on the backs of people who died from opiates. It should go to the people who need it the most – the people suffering from addiction and mental heath."
Follow the Money
The money certainly was earmarked to help those most suffering. New York State Attorney General Letitia James' office even issued a statement that said so.
"The funds from today's agreement – more than $32 million of which will go to New York State – will be used toward abating the effects of excessive opioid use in the participating states."
That statement came way back then though. When everyone was giddy with the win and rosy with visions of brighter tomorrows. Not that folks didn't have a right to be celebratory -- or optimistic. The funds, which came from a $573 million opioid settlement between 47 state attorneys general and the McKinsey & Company consulting firm, were long and hard in coming. They were also much needed. Very much needed.
So what happened?
Follow the Law
Well, as Sommer explains things, it all happened on account of a law. Yep, a law. Seems "a provision in New York State law prevents a state agency or official from determining how money acquired through a settlement can be allocated." We suspect the law was meant to prevent featherbedding and other nefarious politico insider schemes; it ended up though stymieing those who best knew where the money should go.
Folks like Israel weren't the only ones who were unhappy with the missed opportunity either. State Sen. Peter Harckham, chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, also voiced his displeasure. Then he quickly stepped up to address the matter. In fact, the Westchester Country Democrat told Sommer he's already working with the AG on a piece of "lockbox" legislation that will ensure such a diversion doesn't happen again.
Good thing too. A real good thing. Because considerably larger opioid settlements are coming down the pike; it'd be a shame to squander that hard won money too.
Heralding and Hoping
Recovery Boot Camp heralds Attorney General James and State Senator Harckham for so expediently stepping up and addressing this unfortunate issue. We also hope their efforts will prevent any more money being squandered or misspent. There's a need out there -- a life-or-death-sized need -- and it's crucial all opioid settlement moneys are used to meet that need.
Thankfully, with devoted public servants such as James and Harckham on the case, there's a better than best chance this issue will be most favorably resolved. It's quite likely to be swiftly squashed as well. After all, Senator Harckham is a staunch and knowing recovery advocate of impeccable repute. And the ever adroit AG James has been on the front lines of these courtroom opioid battles from the beginning. In fact, without her and her office's considered -- and considerable -- efforts there may not even be any opioid settlements.
How about you? Could you use a little addiction treatment right about now? Squandered opioid settlement aside, there's still help to be had. Yes, even in New York State. All you've gotta do is pick up the phone and call. No foolin.'
(Image Courtesy Wannapik Studio)