NY Attorney General Letitia James Distributes $13 Million In Opioid Settlement Funds To Syracuse And Onondaga County As Part of "Heal NY" Tour
State Attorney General Letitia James brought her statewide Heal New York tour to Utica and Syracuse Tuesday, delivering nearly $37 million to the region to combat the opioid epidemic. The nearly $1.5 billion being distributed statewide comes from different settlements negotiated by her office following the March 2019 lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of the painkillers. James says it’s time to turn the tide on the opioid drug crisis.
"Right now in America, someone somewhere is unfortunately misusing a painkiller for the first time. Someone is dying of an overdose. Somewhere in this state, we are burying a child. Someone is in the throes of drug addiction, and they're seeking help. We're living with broken communities and broken families, and people are sinking further into despair."
Onondaga County is set to receive $9.4 million and Syracuse $3.7 million for prevention, education, treatment, and recovery. The funds will provide services that Dennis Gregg’s step daughter Holland needed when her addiction grew worse in 2012. He’s co-founder of the Heroin Epidemic Action League, or HEAL of Madison and Onondaga County.
"Finally, we're going to have the resources we need to battle this epidemic. We made some great progress, but unfortunately this last year and a half through COVID, we more than lost the gains we made. This is going to make a huge difference. As has been said many times, we're never going to get these people back," Gregg said, pausing to collect himself. "She'll never be THIS Holland. But it's a start."
Gregg held up a photo of happier days with Holland. She spent years at treatment centers and halfway houses until she suffered a near-fatal overdose in 2015. Gregg says she never fully regained the ability to function on her own. At age 21, Holland was transferred to a brain injury rehabilitation center where she’s lived ever since.
Attorney General James stopped by the recently relocated and expanded $17 million Crouse Health Addiction Treatment Services Center on Erie Boulevard East. Dr. Tolani Ajagbe is the medical director, and says a major issue is access to treatment. But he says it’s improved in recent years where patients don’t have to wait a long time for care.
"A lot of places, including our treatment center here, is able to take patients for treatment the same day they show up at our door, including medication management. So, access to treatment is very important. The damage is already done. We're just trying to figure out how to stop the bleed."
Ajagbe say the settlement money is the least we can do to reverse the damage done to so many lives. 2020 was the deadliest year for opioid overdoses in Onondaga County, with 156 lives lost. This year is on pace to surpass that number.