Nassau to use $26M settlement to reactive anti-opioid campaign

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Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) announced that the settlement monies received from pharmacies will be put into a special reserve fund. (Photo courtesy of the Nassau County Legislature)

The Nassau County Legislature approved settlements with a variety of opioid manufacturers totaling more than $26 million Monday.

The county agreed to the settlements with CVS, Perdue Pharmacy, Rite Aide, Walgreens, and Walmart for their role in contributing to the opioid and heroin abuse epidemic that has ravaged in recent years, according to a press release from the Legislature. The millions in settlement monies, officials said, will be put into a special revenue fund to provide education and treatment to Nassau residents suffering from the opioid epidemic.

“The settlements passed through committees yesterday will be invested in education, treatment and prevention to fight the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic in Nassau County,” Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said. “The Majority will continue to make sure every dollar coming from these settlements is used to help Nassau residents who need it most.”

“By creating this special revenue fund, we will ensure that every dollar coming from these settlements goes to the people that need it most,” Nassau Legislator Bill Gaylor (R-Lynbrook) said. “We will continue to take meaningful action to end the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic in Nassau County.”

Officials said an additional $15.3 million is expected to come to Nassau from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson as part of a $230 million settlement throughout the state of New York secured by Attorney General Letitia James in late June.

“The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on countless communities across New York state and the rest of the nation, leaving millions still addicted to dangerous and deadly opioids,” James said. “While no amount of money will ever compensate for the thousands who lost their lives or became addicted to opioids across our state or provide solace to the countless families torn apart by this crisis, these funds will be used to prevent any future devastation.”

Nassau officials announced in late June that they were “re-energizing” Operation Natalie, a countywide anti-opioid initiative, following a spike in drug overdose deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

The effort — which included educational seminars for youth and adults throughout Nassau’s communities — helped drive down opioid addictions and fatalities over the last three years before that progress was reversed last year amid the COVID-19 crisis, County Executive Laura Curran said.

Both Curran and Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said there is a need for “re-engagement” because the pandemic negatively affected community members and prevented county officials from addressing opioid issues as they usually would.

“With the COVID pandemic, unfortunately, we did start to see those overdose numbers go up,” Curran, a Democrat, said. “People were isolated, there was a lot of despair, economic insecurity. All of these things led to that downward spiral and then starting new habits or going back to bad habits.”

Countywide non-fatal opioid-related overdoses subsequently dropped 21 percent from 2017’s levels to 217 cases in 2019, while fatal overdoses fell 15 percent to 44, according to Ryder.

But fatal drug overdoses jumped 34 percent in Nassau in 2020, according to new statistics reported by Newsday. There were 287 fatal drug overdoses in the county last year, with 60 suspected overdose deaths that have not yet been confirmed by the medical examiner’s office, the paper reported.

“Operation Natalie was named after a Massapequa teenager who became the face of the heroin epidemic nearly 10 years before the county announced its establishment in March 2018 when opioid deaths decreased by 25 percent from their 2016 peak.

Drug enforcement also dropped because of the restraints of the coronavirus, but the pandemic clearly did not stop drugs from being pushed into communities, Ryder said. County cops made just 294 heroin arrests in 2020, down from 766 in 2017, according to the commissioner.

The county will now add a problem-oriented police officer to each of Nassau’s eight precincts, Curran and Ryder said. That means each station will have four of those cops, compared to just one several years ago, Curran said.

Additionally, Ryder said, the county’s “Too Good For Drugs” program, which educated youth about the dangers of drug addiction and dependency, is in 48 of the 56 school districts throughout Nassau. Representatives from the police department will be returning to schools in September to resume the program as another way to “re-energize” Operation Natalie, he said.

“By approving these settlements and creating this special revenue fund, we will ensure that every dollar coming from these settlements goes to the people that need it most,” Gaylor said. “We will continue to take meaningful action to end the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic in Nassau County.”

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