A silent killer stalks New York state, ruining lives, destroying families and terrorizing communities, to the tune of more than 13 deaths a day on average over 2021. Its name is opioid abuse, and its death toll is growing. A report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said drug overdose deaths nationwide rose 15% last year to 107,000, the highest level on record.
We have a varied arsenal of tools to help combat this horror, from enforcement efforts like prescription monitoring and trafficking arrests to medically assisted treatment to harm reduction initiatives like overdose prevention centers, with constellations of local aid organizations and community groups striving to help pull people out of the throes of cyclical dependence and abuse.
All of this requires funding, and fortunately, the state has a swelling dedicated fund, holding more than $200 million and more on the way from settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors, expressly for the purpose of assisting counties and localities with opioid abuse mitigation. After lots of foot-dragging, city and state officials have finally appointed a quorum of experts to the Opioid Settlement Board, which by law must issue recommendations to legislators on the most effective spending before any money can go out the door.
We deliberately said the fund is “holding,” not spending, the cash. That’s because, almost a year after the statute creating both the fund and the board was enacted, and months after members were appointed, the state has yet to formally convene the public body. The board members are desperate to develop plans for the state to invest in recovery and prevention but are being given the run-around. In the meantime, the body bags keep getting filled.
This delay is unexplained and frankly unexplainable. Everything is in place to provide critical assistance to the groups on the frontlines of the fight against abuse of prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, and the failure to set it in motion is unjustifiable. Gov. Kathy Hochul must ensure that the board is convened immediately. This is an emergency.
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