Erie County executive on plan to tackle opioid epidemic

The first installations of settlement funds from opioid manufacturers are starting to make their way to the communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, told Capital Tonight that the county will emulate Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal approach and try multiple strategies to bring down opioid deaths over the next 16 years.

Erie County, like so many regions of the state, has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Poloncarz said that more than 2,000 Erie County residents have died of an opioid overdose in the last decade. There were encouraging trends between 2017 and 2019 when the number of opioid overdose deaths fell after hitting a peak in 2016, but the county saw an increase in deaths in 2020 and 2021.

“We really thought that we were winning the battle against opioid addiction in our community and then the pandemic occurred and things changed,” Poloncarz said.

The settlement funds come from multi-million dollar legal settlements reached by New York Attorney General Letitia James last summer with opioid manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma. These funds will be used for prevention, treatment and education efforts in the Empire State. Poloncarz said the money being used to fund these new initiatives come from the settlement funds and not from taxpayers on the state or local level.

Erie County will receive $19 billion this year, but will only spend $10 billion this first year. Poloncarz said the strategy is to have funds for these programs for the years to come and not spend all of the resources right away. This year, the county will spend $6 million on programs that come through a request for proposals process, more than $1 million will go to service providers, $1 million will be used for a multi-year media campaign, and half a million will be used for harm reduction programs like procuring Narcan.

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