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Rochester, Monroe County Receives Millions from NYS Opioid Settlement

By Miguel Lopez

The “Heal NY” statewide tour allotting up to $75 million to WNY. Photo by Miguel Lopez.

Attorney General Leticia A. James, several local officials including Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Congressman Joe Morelle, announced in the “Heal NY” statewide tour allotting up to $75 million to Western New York to combat the opioid epidemic, a total of up to $1.5 billion in funds across New York state.

“Over the last two decades, the opioid crisis has devastated Western New York, causing heartbreaking addictions, overdoses, and deaths, but, today, we begin to heal New York by infusing up to $75 million into the community to invest in the programs that will help us recover,” James said. 

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for all the loss we have experienced, these funds will allow Western New York to invest in the prevention, treatment, and recovery programs that will allow us to finally turn the tide on the opioid crisis.”

Rochester is set to receive $5 million, and Monroe County will receive $14 million. Funds will go towards prevention resources, treatment and recovery programs for victims of the opioid epidemic.

James, in 2019, filed a lawsuit against the various manufacturers and distributors of opioids responsible for the marketing of opioids to doctors, hospitals, health care systems and more which led to the over prescription of the drugs across NY over the last two decades.

James said some of the manufacturers and distributors deserved blame for greed that fueled the opioid crisis that has killed more than 96,000 people in the U.S. from March 2020 to March 2021, the highest death toll recorded in United States history and a nearly 30 percent increase from the year before. New York also saw a nearly 28 percent increase. Rochester also has seen a massive increase in opioid deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  

September was marked the second deadliest month in terms of opioid induced deaths, according to a recent report from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Heroine Task Force. All nationwide, state and local data for the year was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Manufacturers and affiliates named in the complaint included Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (including parent company, Johnson & Johnson), Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and Allergan Finance. The distributors included McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

The Finger Lakes region is set to receive $53 million from the settlement with Johnson & Johnson.

What most will remember from the event wasn’t the number of deaths or dollars received, but a hat placed on an empty chair. 

A hat belonging to Jonathan Drescher, son of Certified Addiction Recovery Coach, Lori Drescher. Jonathan bravely fought, but sadly lost his battle to opioid addiction. 

“The chair reminds us of what used to be, before our families were shattered.” Dresher said.  “But this press conference isn’t about my son… it’s about all the empty hats, and the lives of the families who were forever changed… it’s about all hats, still on vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic who continue to live in despair, and about the people who are attempting to rescue them.”

Drescher began the Jonathan Drescher Recovery Memorial Fund, supporting those in recovery to become Peer Support Recovery Advocates for others. She spoke about how fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, has been laced in opioids by “stupid, soulless criminals,” and that the pharmaceutical company executives themselves were criminals, fueled by greed, who she says, “paved the way to the knockoff opioid massacre.” 

Her message was not one of distraught however, rather an unthinkable optimism that can only be admired after everything she endured. She spoke on how opioid loss affects families, and how an empty chair at a family holiday can be a grim reminder about the devastation that addiction can cause. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, call the NYS HOPEline at 1-877-846-7369.