After a three-year decline from 2016 to 2019, fatal opiate overdoses in Erie County jumped from 156 in 2019 to 232 in 2020.
While the settlement James helped negotiate stipulated that the funds must be used “to the extent practicable” to address the opioid epidemic, a provision in New York State law prevents a state agency or official from determining how money acquired through a settlement can be allocated.
State Sen. Peter Harckham, chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said he is working with the attorney general to make sure such a diversion doesn’t happen again. Considerably larger settlements are expected with opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“We are working with the attorney general right now to pass legislation to create a lockbox that all opioid settlements would come into,” said Harckham, a Westchester County Democrat.
The bill they are working on would put in place an advisory board of family members, treatment providers and other stakeholders to ensure that 100% of the funds would be used for prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction, Harckham said.
He said James was not at fault for what happened.
“This is not on her,” Harckham said. “She’s doing an amazing job on this. Unfortunately, you can’t win every budget fight, but this is one that never should have been.”
Harckham said people who have lost loved ones to addiction need to know these funds will be used to prevent others in the future from suffering a similar fate.