Nassau County continues to hold Big Pharma accountable in the courts for the wave of destruction that the pharmaceutical companies’ highly addictive opioid drugs unleashed on families and children across the country, and right here in our own backyards.
On Nov. 7, the county took the first legislative step toward approving a $68.25 million settlement with Actavis LLC and Actavis Pharma Inc., Watson Laboratories Inc., Anda Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA. Once this settlement is approved by the full Legislature and County Executive Bruce Blakeman — which I anticipate will occur this month — it will supplement the $70.4 million the county has already received through various Big Pharma settlements.
Drawing from the funds now at the county’s disposal, Blakeman in mid-September announced plans to distribute $15 million per year for the next four years to agencies that offer addiction prevention, treatment or recovery services. Approximately $2.4 million per year was immediately earmarked, with the lion’s share going to Nassau University Medical Center. The remaining $12.6 million per year will be awarded to agencies that respond to a Request for Expressions of Interest that closed on Monday.
Above and beyond Blakeman’s announced plans, there is still approximately $10.4 million that has not been designated. The Teva Pharmaceutical settlement will add significantly to that sum, as will the proceeds of future settlements as additional pharmaceutical companies are held responsible for their gross negligence and complicity in this ongoing public health crisis.
While I have consistently expressed my frustration with the slow pace of allocating these funds, this influx of new resources gives us a golden opportunity to proactively plan for how we can get life-saving resources where they need to be as expeditiously as possible. My frustration is amplified by my concern for all our friends, loved ones and neighbors who are suffering at this very moment.
I’m a mother of three daughters who are now young adults, and the opioid drug crisis remains one of my greatest fears. We have had countless conversations as a family to instill vigilance as they navigate the world. As parents, we do so motivated by awareness of the stark reality that addiction is an indiscriminate killer — that there is no race, creed, religion, sex or economic background that substance abuse does not impact.
In Glen Cove, I have grown close to a group of women who have established a local chapter of Families Anonymous, an organization that gives people navigating the trauma of living with a loved one suffering from addiction a safe space to meet and share their experiences, strength and hope with one another. I have introduced friends to Families Anonymous, and the warmth, support and generosity of spirit they received was truly remarkable, and life-affirming.
Several members of the organization came to the Legislature on Oct. 24 and courageously shared their stories. They have seen their children arrested and sent to prison, and fought with insurance companies to secure long-term treatment upon their release. Several have seen their loved ones come through the tempest one day at a time and achieve long-term, sustainable sobriety. Sadly, far too many have endured the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child to the disease of addiction.
What they shared offers some important insights into our next steps. With the funds from our opioid lawsuit settlements, Nassau County would be wise to look closely at supporting organizations that provide drug rehabilitation programs with longer terms of stay beyond the customary 28-day term; dual-diagnosis approaches that get to the complicated and often intertwined root causes of the disease; and aggressive early-intervention strategies.
It is also crucial to keep talking openly about addiction, so we can continue chipping away at the stigmas that can hinder people from seeking the help they need. Addiction is a public health crisis, not a moral failing.
Thanks to its advocacy and willingness to confront Big Pharma in the courts, Nassau County has created tremendous opportunities for progress. Armed with these resources and more on the way, it is more important than ever for us to work together as parents and leaders to act on decisions that will make a significant, lifesaving impact on the trajectory of the opioid addiction crisis.
Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, of Glen Cove, a Nassau County legislator representing the 11th District, is the ranking member of the legislature’s Committee on Health & Social Services.