Suffolk has begun distributing $25 million to drug treatment providers, community groups and government agencies for programs to fight the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on Long Island since the late 1990s, said Steve Bellone, executive of Suffok County, and other officials announced on Thursday.
The funds are part of the approximately $200 million the county is expected to receive over the next two decades from the settlement of the landmark lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to Bellone, who was joined by treatment providers, public health officials and county lawmakers during a press conference in Hauppauge.
“We are committed to the idea that these funds will help to help the individuals and families who are suffering, that these funds will help end the opioid epidemic once and for all, every single dollar,” Bellone said. “That is our obligation.”
The district issued a call for proposals for grants for programs promoting drug prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery in July. Bellone said the county received 111 applications. A review board approved 37 applications for the three-year grants submitted by 34 organizations, officials said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Suffolk County has started giving away $25 Millions in grants for programs fighting the opioid epidemic.
- The funds are part of the approximately $200 million The county is expected to receive revenue over the next two decades from the resolution of the landmark lawsuit it brought against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
- A review board approved 37 applications for the three-year grants submitted by 34 organizations, officials said.
Recipients include major medical organizations such as Northwell Health and St. Charles Hospital; government agencies such as the City of Smithtown Horizon Counseling and Education Center; and treatment providers such as the Family and Children’s Association and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
The Thomas’ Hope Foundation of Holtsville, which connects people struggling with addiction to treatment programs and supports their families, received a $265,000 grant, which it will use to expand staff, outreach to the homeless community, the transportation and other services, said executive director Linda Ventura, who said she founded the organization to honor her son Thomas, who died of a fatal drug overdose in 2012.
“At Thomas’ Hope, we’re just trying to be the people that I wish I would have held my hand, that they had someone to vent to and be with,” Ventura said. “That’s what it’s about, that connection, that human connection that we all need.”
Linda Ventura, who represents the Thomas’ Hope Foundation, which is named after her son who died of a drug overdose, said her organization received a $265,000 grant to help fight the opioid epidemic. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas
The county will issue another call for proposals later this year, and organizations that did not receive grants in the first opioid settlement fund distribution may resubmit their applications. The Suffolk County Department of Health will monitor the effectiveness of the programs that receive the funds, Bellone said.
“This is a fight that will continue and we must do everything we can to ensure that these funds are spent in the best possible way,” he said. “We understand that these settlement dollars can never bring back loved ones and those lost during this terrible epidemic, but we hope that with this extra money we will be able to alleviate additional suffering.”
Long Island public health officials and addiction experts said fatal drug overdoses, which had been declining in the years leading up to COVID-19, have increased largely due to the social isolation, grief and fear caused by the pandemic.
In 2016, Suffolk became the first New York county to file a lawsuit against drug companies for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic, and was later joined in the lawsuit by Nassau County and the New York City Attorney’s Office. The complaint says the drug manufacturers and distributors created a public nuisance by downplaying the risk of addiction and dishonestly and aggressively promoting the use of opioid painkillers.
Many of the original defendants — including well-known companies like Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid — agreed to settlements before the lawsuit went to trial in Central Islip in June 2021, while others entered into agreements with the state and counties during of the process.
Nassau County Executive Director Bruce Blakeman in September urged organizations to submit proposals for programs to combat substance abuse. He said the county plans to spend $60 million — $15 million annually — on drug prevention, education and treatment over the next four years.
Nassau officials appointed a panel to review the 60 proposals it has since received, according to Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Blakeman. Boyle said Thursday that decisions on those proposals will be announced in the near future.
Michael O’Keeffe is responsible for the Suffolk County Police Department and other Long Island law enforcement agencies. He is an award-winning journalist and co-author of two books, The Card and American Icon.