Officials from Nassau and Suffolk counties joined together in a news conference on Tuesday to announce yet another settlement in the ongoing litigation with pharmaceutical companies over their roles in the opioid crisis on Long Island.
The three largest drug distributors, McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc, and AmerisourceBergen Corp, will dole out at least $86 million to each county over 18 years, which officials said would go straight toward drug treatment and prevention.
“We’ve been working on this issue at an extraordinary cost,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “These dollars can never replace who has been lost and the families that have been devastated … but it will help lift the burden off taxpayers, bring some relief, and hold [drug companies] accountable.”
Bellone said that Suffolk would likely end up with about $120 million from all settlements and will convene a committee to allocate the dollars toward various drug abuse programs.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said that Nassau will receive up to $115 million in total from all the settlements, which will “go straight to helping curb opioid abuse.”
Nassau will also be one of 17 members of the National Enforcement Committee, which is responsible for overseeing negotiations, outreach, and implementation of a potential National Global Settlement.
“We want to make sure we have enough funding for mental health, for prevention treatments, for education, and also for supporting the communities that have been hardest hit by the epidemic of opioids here on Long Island,” Curran said. “We can also say with some pride that Long Island has paved the way for the rest of the country in these lawsuits.”
Alongside James’ office, the counties are still in trial against drug manufacturers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Allergan PLC, Endo International, and Anda Pharmaceutical Products. In addition to the “big three” announced on Tuesday, they have also settled with CVS Pharmacy, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.
“We have confidence in the judicial system and are very optimistic we will hold these companies responsible at trial,” Curran said.
The settlements are still pending the county legislatures’ approvals. It is the largest opioid settlement in United States history and comes just as drug distributors are set to pay more than $1 billion to New York and billions nationwide in lawsuits over opioids.
The deal with New York Attorney General Letitia James and the Long Island counties came three weeks into the first jury trial accusing companies of profiting from a flood of addictive painkillers that devastated communities.
“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the millions of addictions, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, or the countless communities decimated by opioids, this money will be vital in preventing any future devastation,” James said.
Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Nassau County at the law firm Napoli Shkolnik, in a statement said that unlike the proposed national settlement, the New York deal “is not contingent on the rest of the country or other states joining.”
In a joint statement, the distributors called the settlement “an important step toward finalizing a broad settlement with states, counties, and political subdivisions.”
Nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the crisis appeared to have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic
The CDC last week said provisional data showed that 2020 was a record year for drug overdose deaths with 93,331, up 29% from a year earlier. Opioids were involved in 74.7%, or 69,710, of those fatalities.