New York Next in Line to Settle Opioid Case with Big Pharma
On November 3rd, 2022, The Associated Press announced yet another major pharmaceutical opioid manufacturer would pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit that alleged the manufacturer was partially responsible for the creation and spread of the opioid epidemic.
Pharma Companies Face a Measure of Justice in New York
New York State will officially receive $524 million from Israel-based pharmaceutical opioid manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals. According to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, this settlement is the largest amount secured from an opioid manufacturer or distributor sued by the state. Beyond the Teva settlement, New York has reached a series of settlements with numerous drug makers, all based on the same allegation that the drug makers were involved in the opioid epidemic by knowingly producing addictive opioid painkillers.
As for how the state will spend the money, The Associated Press reports New York has created a settlement fund to earmark the money for abatement, treatment, and prevention efforts in hard-hit communities. Further, the settlement includes a statewide prohibition on the marketing of opioids, including restrictions on political lobbying and a ban on high-dose opioids being produced, distributed, sold, and prescribed in New York. These are positive, public safety-minded measures that other states should implement too.
The settlement is a monumental move in the right direction for New York, which has been overrun with escalating drug problems for several years. But will the settlement funds translate to treatment options for those in New York who are currently addicted to drugs? That is the key question, and it needs to be answered quickly, given the high stakes of addiction and a rising opioid overdose death rate in New York.
The Scope of Opioid Addiction in New York
New York is mired in a lethal opioid addiction epidemic. State-level research by the Office of the New York State Comptroller found that opioid-related overdose deaths increased 68% between 2019 and 2021, to almost 5,000 deaths. About 85% of those deaths involved either fentanyl or a similar, highly potent synthetic opioid.
Further, it’s not just the total number of fatal overdoses that is increasing in New York, but the proportion of New Yorkers dying is also increasing. For example, 30 New Yorkers for every 100,000 state residents died of drug overdoses in 2021, compared to only five deaths per 100,000 in 2010. That means New York’s drug-related death rate has skyrocketed by 600% in just over a decade.
“... The data shows our battle against drug overdose deaths is far from over. State leaders must ensure an ongoing commitment of public resources and strategies, including new funding from legal settlements and innovative, evidence-based solutions for the fight against this deadly epidemic to be effective.”
New York elected officials are sounding the alarm that the drug crisis in the Empire State is getting much worse. Quoting Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who authored a detailed report on the state of opioid addiction and overdose in New York, “Too many New Yorkers have died from the misuse of drugs, but the jump in these numbers is alarming. It is a tragedy that devastates families and impacts our communities in countless ways. The data shows our battle against drug overdose deaths is far from over. State leaders must ensure an ongoing commitment of public resources and strategies, including new funding from legal settlements and innovative, evidence-based solutions for the fight against this deadly epidemic to be effective.” Given that opioid drugs are the primary driving factor behind the state’s drug overdose crisis, overcoming opioid addiction in New York will be crucial in solving the state’s most devastating health emergency.
Litigation Aside, Treatment Still Desperately Needed for Millions of Addicts
While successful litigation and settlements with pharmaceutical companies are a step in the right direction, the need for qualified drug treatment in New York could not be clearer. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli concluded the executive summary of his “Continuing Crisis: Drug Overdose Deaths in New York” with these words, “This year, the federal government issued a new comprehensive strategy to address drug overdoses, and New York and other states are receiving new resources from settlements with opioid manufacturers, distributors and others that provide an opportunity to bolster efforts to prevent abuse, support treatment and reduce harm to prevent as many drug overdose deaths as possible.” It is heartening that New York’s elected officials understand that the way out of the state’s drug addiction crisis is to ensure all New York drug addicts have access to qualified drug rehab services.
Yet despite New York’s political and public health leaders being aware of the need for treatment, this has yet to translate into concrete action that makes treatment available for all those addicted to drugs in the state. Some portion of the $524 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals will go to treatment, yes, but the lack of access to comprehensive drug treatment remains a serious problem until those funds are properly distributed.
While New York fares better than other states in providing treatment options to its residents, it’s still estimated that fewer than 60% of those who struggle with substance abuse in the state will ever receive drug addiction treatment. And that’s with the state providing treatment to 680,000 New Yorkers each year through 1,700 prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery programs.
With a skyrocketing overdose death rate and the fact that any effort toward implementing accessible, statewide treatment options for all New York addicts will take time, it becomes increasingly clear that the family members and loved ones of addicts must step up and do everything they can to help their loved ones get off drugs.
Opioid producers facing justice is a good thing, and New York public health officials and policymakers recognizing the need for treatment is also a good thing. But none of this matters if a loved one dies from a drug overdose. If you know someone struggling with drug addiction in New York, please do everything you can to get them into a residential drug treatment center as soon as possible.
- AP. “New York could get $524M under opioid settlements with Teva.” The Associated Press, 2022. apnews.com
- NYSC. “Continuing Crisis: Drug Overdose Deaths in New York.” Office of the New York State Comptroller, 2022. osc.state.ny.us
- NYSS. “New York opioid deaths surged in pandemic’s wake, report finds.” New York State Senator Anna M. Kaplan, 2022. nysenate.gov