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Finger Lakes region could net $53 million from opioid lawsuits

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Gino Fanelli/CITY
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Upward of $53 million is expected to be paid out to counties in the Finger Lakes region under settlements reached to end state lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and distributors.

Attorney General Letitia James has been traveling across the state presenting oversized checks to county leaders to illustrate how much settlement money is coming their way. On Thursday, she stood with House Rep. Joe Morelle, County Executive Adam Bello, state Sen. Jeremy Cooney, and a slew of other elected officials and community leaders to announce the payouts.

“In Monroe County and across our state, we are living through a catastrophic period of greed, corporate greed, where individuals placed their bottom lines above people,” James said. “...The bottom line is businesses, corporations, and the Sackler family should be held accountable for their actions.”

The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, which developed, manufactured, and sold opioids including OxyContin.

In total, the state expects to receive roughly $1.5 billion from settled and pending lawsuits against drug companies and distributors.

James was among the first attorneys general to sue opioid manufacturers and related companies en masse, filing an extensive lawsuit in 2019. Since then, nearly every state in the nation has followed suit.

Many of these cases, such as those against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, Endo Health Solutions, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, have already been settled. Other cases, including the one against local company Rochester Drug Cooperative, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, are ongoing.

Of the $53.1 million headed to Finger Lakes governments, Monroe County can receive about $14 million, and the city of Rochester stands to gain $5.5 million.

The actual amount Monroe County can receive from the settlements varies. The settlements come with a stipulation that any amount paid out to counties must be used only for combating the opioid epidemic. The more counties that agree to the stipulations, the more is paid out. On the low-end, the county would get $29.3 million, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“What I’m grateful for here today is that all levels of government are represented here, federal, state, county,” Morelle said. “We’re all together in this fight.”

Bello said that any funds the county receives will be placed into a trust fund that can only be accessed for addiction treatment and other opioid epidemic-related services.

“In order to really, truly, and effectively impact the opioid crisis, we have to have the resources in place to not just offer a standalone service, but to offer that warm handoff between services,” Bello said. “We have to meet people where they are and stay with people as they deal with their addiction.”

In September, Purdue Pharm and the Sackler family settled on a $4.5 billion lawsuit, which would also allow the company to file for bankruptcy, dissolve itself, and prevent the Sacklers from ever producing opioids again, although the family was shielded from future lawsuits.

New York stands to see about $200 million from that settlement.

Lori Drescher, founder of addiction treatment program Recovery Coach University, lost her son Jonathan to an overdose in February. Any investment in fighting the opioid crisis should be based around an advisory board, funding for recovery housing, and supporting harm reduction services.

Drescher also had some choice words for the companies named in the lawsuits and purveyors of heroin tainted with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“Let’s be clear, these are not overdoses,” Drescher said. “They’re intentional poisoning sloppily concocted by greedy, stupid, soulless criminals, fueled by the greed of many collaborating pharmaceutical executives.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.