Counties Deploy Settlement Funds

Money prioritizes harm reduction, treatment

As overdoses from fentanyl mount, New York and its counties are starting to deploy a new weapon: more than $2 billion the state is receiving from opioid manufacturers and distributors to settle lawsuits over their role in the crisis.

In November 2022, the state’s Settlement Fund Advisory Board recommended that first-year spending, $192 million, prioritize harm reduction, treatment, hard-hit populations such as Blacks and Latinos, and housing and recovery.

One-third of that amount ($64 million) has been distributed to counties for “regional abatement,” including $2.1 million to Dutchess County’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health and $600,000 to Putnam’s Department of Social Services and Mental Health. Dutchess also received $306,000 designated for street outreach.

On Oct. 10, the Dutchess Legislature approved spending $551,250, between this year and 2025, to support the county’s recovery coaches, public health education coordinators and its Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) team.

LEAD, a partnership with the City of Poughkeepsie’s police department, focuses on outreach to people with severe mental-health and drug-abuse problems who generally do not seek out services.

Settlement chartFour recovery coaches based at Dutchess County’s Empowerment Center in Poughkeepsie counsel people one-on-one, lead group sessions, distribute information at community events and visit “hot spots,” said Jean-Marie Niebuhr, the Department of Behavioral and Community Health’s director of community services.

“Places that we know where there are people who use drugs — in certain parks or in certain places — they [recovery coaches] go there regularly to engage with people,” she said.

Dutchess County Executive William F.X. O’Neil said the county is also working with Oxford House Inc. to open self-run and self-supporting recovery houses based on the organization’s model.

In addition, said Niebuhr, Dutchess has installed in Poughkeepsie a harm-reduction vending machine with free naloxone and fentanyl test strips, and is working on supplying information kits that first responders can leave with people who have overdosed but refused additional medical help.

Both Dutchess and Putnam have also joined EndODNY, which allows residents, including drug users and families, to register anonymously to receive text messages on subjects such as treatment options and instructions for using naloxone.

The system sends “spike” alerts, emergency warnings from county officials about bad batches of drugs and other dangers. Putnam issued one on Oct. 23 after paramedics responded to two non-fatal overdoses within 24 hours.

Text messages should be “a lot more convenient” than email alerts, and have been shown to “connect with more people who use drugs,” said Niebuhr.

“If there’s something going on, like a bad batch, like something has a ton of xylazine in it and it’s taking out more people, we want to make sure that family members, loved ones, friends of people who use drugs, people who use drugs themselves, are aware,” she said.

Putnam County awarded in April $85,000 of its settlement funds to its Prevention Council and in August began inviting providers to submit proposals for the rest of the funds. The county has yet to announce awardees.

The state also announced in July an award of $800,000 in settlement funds over four years to the Council on Addiction, Prevention and Education of Dutchess County (CAPE) to combat fentanyl, opioid and prescription-drug abuse.

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