Attorney General James comes to Rochester to announce local funding for combatting opioid crisis

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New York Attorney General Letitia James was in town Thursday as she continues her “Heal NY” tour.

The attorney general has been visiting cities throughout the state in recent weeks to support families and communities impacted by the ongoing opioid crisis.

“We are here today to turn the tide on the opioid crisis,” James said. “It is time to health New York.”

The attorney general announced $53.1 million for the Finger Lakes region go combat the opioid crisis, including $14 million for Monroe County and as much as $5 million for the City of Rochester. Funding for the region is as follows:

Finger Lakes Region: $29,266,905.67 – $53,124,938.32*

  • Finger Lakes Region: $29,266,905.67 – $53,124,938.32*
  • Genesee County: $614,045.87 – $1,060,280.71
  • Livingston County: $586,539.40 – $1,012,784.94
  • Monroe County: $11,143,437.26 – $19,509,989.88**
  • Ontario County: $1,131,905.55 – $1,954,475.53
  • Orleans County: $356,743.79 – $615,993.98
  • Seneca County: $334,269.32 – $577,187.03
  • Wayne County: $858,979.10 – $1,483,210.00
  • Wyoming County: $355,707.37 – $614,204.38
  • Yates County: $214,215.07 – $369,887.85
    • * In addition to sum total of counties, a regional share is also being allocated here.
    • * In addition to sum total of counties, a regional share is also being allocated here.

“We sued big pharma and the reality is that someone is dying from an overdose in Rochester right now, and they need to be held accountable,” James said. “In fact, we saw a 30% spike in Monroe County overdoes from 2019 to 2020.”

Four companies in the drug industry said in September that enough states had agreed to a settlement of lawsuits over the opioid crisis for them to move ahead with a $26 billion deal.

An announcement from the three largest U.S. drug distribution companies and a confirmation from drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, which had previously announced that it would move ahead, came Saturday. That was the deadline for the companies to decide whether there was enough buy-in to continue the settlement plan.

The distribution companies — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — said that 42 states had agreed to join. Johnson & Johnson did not immediately say how many states agreed to its part of the settlement.

The attorney general says the funds will go directly to combatting the opioid crisis.

“New Yorkers will see an increase in training as well as funding in programs to deal with the crisis,” James said. “You will see increased treatment for pregnant women and more.”

Together, the settlements are likely to represent the biggest piece of a string of settlements between companies in the drug industry and state and local governments over the addiction and overdose epidemic in the U.S. Prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin and illicit ones such as heroin and illegally made fentanyl have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.

“I know there is no dollar amount that could fix what this crisis has done to New York families,” James said. “We are not in the game of victim blaming. We want to offer treatment on demand, and I hope this does that.”

According to the attorney general, the money was placed in a “lock box” by the state legislature and the funds can only be used in relation to education, programs, and treatment as it pertains to the opioid crisis.

Joining James was Rep. Joe Morelle, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, local elected officials, community organizations, and families impacted by the opioid crisis.

“I know that [Monroe County Executive Adam] Bello has put a priority on this crisis,” Morelle said. “It’s hard to now know someone who hasn’t been touched by opioid addiction. Those families are hurt forever and there is no coming back. Those feelings are felt forever.”

According to the Congressman, 93,000 people died nationwide from opioid overdoses last year, up 30% from 2019.

“This is the highest death increase in opioid deaths in a period of 12 months since we began recording them in 1999,” Morelle said. “We are going to continue to work together — federal, state, and city will work together on this.”

Under the $26 billion settlement, which was initially announced in June, states were given a month to decide whether to join. Then it would be up to the companies to decide whether it was enough to keep going.

The next step is trying to get local governments to sign on to the deal and agree not to continue their lawsuits. This phase is to last until Jan. 2. After that, the companies will again decide whether enough have joined to implement the deal.

“This epidemic has taken way to many lives here in Monroe County,” Bello said. “The importance of bringing justice to families cannot be underestimated.”

In all the cases, governments have agreed to put most of their shares toward drug treatment and education programs and other measures to fight the epidemic.

In a new Marist poll released this week, James trailed Gov. Kathy Hochul in a hypothetical gubernatorial Democratic primary.

If the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary were held this week, 44% of voters surveyed said they would vote for Gov. Hochul in a matchup against Letitia James (28%) and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (15%), while 13% were undecided.

The governor remained the favorite in a hypothetical four-way race that included former governor Andrew Cuomo, though 19% of registered Democrats interviewed between October 4-7 said they would still support Cuomo. The primary matchups carried a margin of error of 6.9 percentage points.

Watch the full briefing

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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