By Miguel Lopez
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello held a press conference at the Monroe County legislative building to announce the total number of opioid related deaths jumped up to 238 deaths in 2020, a 31% increase from 2019. He also announced that Monroe County was set to receive millions in settlement funds from pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, as well as three other drug manufacturers.
In June, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $230 million to New York State to settle lawsuits that claimed the company fueled the opioid epidemic crisis. There was also a second settlement agreement reached with McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.
Bello stated that the settlement agreements were reached thanks to New York Attorney General Leticia James, who recently announced a $4.5 billion settlement agreement with Purdue Pharmaceutical and the Sackler family. Bello praised her legal work, stating: “Her work will give us vital dollars to treat addiction.”
The agreement with Johnson & Johnson would bring in between $2.3-$2.5 million to Monroe County, over the course of ten years. The second agreement with the other three companies will see the county receive between $13.9 million and $24.6 million over the course of the next 18 years.
Bello said he’s already turned in legislation to the county legislature, who will meet to discuss the agreements. He also stated his desire for the legislature to agree to the establishment of a trust fund from the settlement to be used strictly for opioid related assistance and sighted the funds of settlements about a decade earlier with big tobacco companies never helping those who were affected by tobacco products.
“These settlement funds were awarded to Monroe County to support our unprecedented effort to combat the opioid crisis and it is our responsibility to use these vital dollars to boost our focus on treating and preventing addiction.”
When asked if Bello thought the rising number of overdoses had to do with a higher amount of people using opioids or rather, the potency of opioids such as fentanyl and heroin, Bello cited a clear connection between Covid-19 isolation requirements and the increase of victims of the opioid crisis.
I had the chance to ask Bello if he believed Johnson & Johnson, a company worth well in the tens of billions, paid their fair share in the settlement, and he told me, “I believe the settlement amount will go a long way towards mitigating the damage the company has done here,” he said
“I think this is a significant amount of resources coming to Monroe County… This is a significant amount of money that will make a big difference.”