New York Attorney General Letitia James began her statewide “HealNY” tour of New York in the Bronx, where she delivered the first of up to $1.5 billion to combat the opioid epidemic.
The funds — which will go to all 10 regions of the state — come from different settlements James has negotiated following her March 2019 lawsuit against the various manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid crisis. On Oct. 4, the Progressive James was joined by elected officials from throughout the five boroughs at Lincoln Hospital as she announced that NYC will receive $256 million for opioid prevention, treatment and recovery.
“Today, we begin to heal New York with these funds that will help turn the tide on the opioid crisis,” James said. “As we embark on a tour across the state, we are ensuring every region and every county gets financial help to recover from the devastation that opioids have inflicted on them. While no amount of money will ever compensate for the millions of addictions, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, or the countless families torn apart by opioids, this money will be vital in preventing future devastation.”
According to James, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the only thing that ravaged the country during 2020. In fact, drug overdose deaths rose to an all-time high last year, with opioids involved in 75% of them.
James said right now someone is dying from an overdose, another is trying a pain killer for the first time and a family is burying their children who died from drugs. “That’s why I made a promise to hold big pharma accountable and bring back the funds to our state,” she said.
The lawsuit filed in 2019 was, at the time, the nation’s most extensive lawsuit against the various manufacturers and distributors of opioids. The manufacturers and distributors were responsible for heavily marketing opioids to doctors, hospitals and health care systems, which led to the over prescribing of the drugs across New York State and the rest of the nation over the last two decades.
Bronx elected officials praised James for fighting against the drug companies and trying to help save lives. Among those who have seen drugs affect his family firsthand is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a Democrat. Diaz told the story of how he witnessed a cousin strung out on drugs one day on 149th Street who didn’t even recognize him, and uncles who were addicted as well.
From crack in the ’80s to opioids now, drugs have wreaked havoc on people for decades. However, Diaz Jr., said people that are addicted to drugs need help, not incarceration.
“We want our family members to live,” he said. “We love them. I commend New York Attorney General James for taking action through her ‘HealNY’ tour and delivering funds that will play a key role in fighting this scourge facing our most vulnerable communities.”
Democrat U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who represents the northeast Bronx and part of Westchester, also witnessed the impact drugs have on families. Bowman had family members who were addicted to crack and often would steal things from his home and sell them to buy drugs. Bowman also got emotional as he spoke about 15-year-old Olivia Green of Yonkers who overdosed earlier this year on fentanyl.
“On Easter morning of this year, one of my constituents, 15-year-old Olivia Green, died due to fentanyl overdose,” Bowman said. “Every year this epidemic rages on and claims thousands of lives in my district and across the state — lives that are precious and which must be saved. The opioid epidemic is a health crisis, a mental illness crisis, a hopelessness crisis. It must be addressed through health care and community care solutions — not incarceration, punishment, and endless cycles of cruelty.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.