Ortt doesn’t want opioid settlement money diverted from addiction treatment services

Posted 30 March 2022 at 9:47 pm

Provided photo: State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt stands with lawmakers and advocates for addiction treatment services.

Press Release, State Sen. Rob Ortt’s Office

ALBANY – State Sen. Rob Ortt and other members of the Senate Republican Conference joined advocates in calling for legislative leaders to save the opioid settlement funds and reject Governor Hochul’s state budget proposal to circumvent existing New York State law and spend $265 million in opioid settlement funding without any formal plan or input from the state-appointed advisory board.

“The Opioid Settlement Board was put in place to provide accountability and ensure that opioid settlement funds are properly directed toward prevention, treatment, and recovery services,” Ortt said. “It’s unacceptable that there are still vacancies on the Board with the state budget deadline just a few days away. It’s imperative these seats are filled and the Board is able to carry out its important goal to ensure that funding in the budget truly goes to help those who are struggling with addiction in our communities.”

Over the past several years, New York State has negotiated more than a billion dollars in monetary settlements with drug manufacturers for their role in helping fuel the opioid epidemic, and in 2021, legislation was signed into law that required New York to create a lockbox for funds received through settlements with opioid drug manufacturers.

By law, the lockbox fund is meant to be overseen by an Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board made up of families of victims, individuals with lived experience, doctors, and treatment providers to bolster transparency and accountability, and to ensure that the funds were being used effectively to provide much-needed resources for prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services.

The law also expressly prohibited the funds in the lockbox from being used to supplant existing state funding for services and programs related to Substance Use Disorder (SUD). However, to date, a number of seats on the Board remain vacant and the group has yet to meet.

Tucked into Governor Hochul’s multi-billion dollar Executive Budget Proposal, is a little noticed measure that proposes to spend $265 million of opioid settlement funds before all the vacancies on the much-lauded Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board have been filled.

Advocates are calling for the advisory board to finally be filled and actually meet to decide on the administration of these settlement funds for treatment, recovery and other support services.

In a joint letter to Governor Hochul, advocates Linda Ventura from the Thomas’ Hope Foundation, Avi Israel of Save the Michael’s and advocate and recovering addict Ashley Lafountain note that supportive services are needed now more than ever before as the national number through October 2021 reports 105,000 individuals dying of overdose in the last year with 5,700 individuals being NYS residents.

“This is unacceptable,” Ventura, Israel and Lafountain said of Governor Hochul’s proposal. “The potential diversion of the settlement money could deny treatment, harm reduction and other supportive services to New Yorkers who need it the most. Many of us lost loved ones because of a lack of treatment and harm reduction services, a lack of housing and recovery resources and the lack of a continuum of care desperately sought by individuals struggling for recovery.”