Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration is rejecting a recommendation from a state advisory panel to invest funds obtained from legal settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributers into overdose prevention centers, as part of an investment in harm reduction measures to save lives from the opioid epidemic.
“This recommendation violates State and Federal Laws, rules, and/or regulations,” wrote State Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham in a letter sent Tuesday to the state Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board. A copy of the letter is available below.
Earlier this fall, the settlement board made broad recommendations on how to spend about $128 million in settlement funds appropriated for the current fiscal year. The board identified percentages of the funds to invest in certain areas, such as harm reduction, treatment and housing.
When the board held its vote on the plan in late October, the governor’s representatives on the board, including Cunningham, did not raise any objections to the investment in overdose prevention centers or harm reduction more broadly. The letter on Tuesday caught some on the board by surprise.
“The agencies (addressing this issue) thoroughly reviewed and carefully analyzed the proposed recommendations and share the Board’s commitment to ensuring the settlement funds are dedicated in the most efficient and effective way possible to responding to the opioid epidemic in New York State,” wrote Dr. Cunningham.
The commissioner said that to the “extent practicable” the Hochul administration will implement recommendations that don’t violate the law or state constitution, don’t create recurring costs the state would need to cover and are in compliance with court orders. The administration is rejecting a specific recommendation calling for money to go to the state Department of Health for the purpose of harm reduction.
“This recommendation violates the New York State Constitution, specifically, the Board does not have the authority to direct and spend State monies. The authority to direct and spend State monies lies with the Executive and the Legislature,” wrote Cunningham.
Additionally the governor’s administration is not willing to invest resources into overdose prevention centers, including money to find potential sites, develop public messaging and pilot using heroin assisted treatment at the centers.
OASAS did not respond Tuesday afternoon to questions about the letter from the commissioner.
Asked on Nov. 8 what a state investment in overdose prevention centers might look like, Cunningham told WCNY’s Connect NY, “There’s a lot of questions about that.”
“What I would say is certainly overdose prevention centers are harm reduction strategies and harm reduction is a clearly a priority here,” she added.
Senate Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee Chair Pete Harckham, a Westchester County Democrat, said that overdose prevention centers need to be considered in New York if the state’s number one priority is saving lives. “We need to come up with a policy on overdose prevention centers. We’ve got to end the stigma … These centers save lives,” he said.
In the first year of publicly-sanctioned operation by two overdose prevention centers in New York City, the facilities combined to avert more than 600 drug oversees, according to OnPoint NYC, the nonprofit running the program.
“Supervised consumption is a lifesaving health intervention that meets our beautiful people where they are with love, compassion, no judgement and a commitment to helping them heal and live their best lives. Today, we celebrate every participant that has walked through our doors, and we applaud their commitment to heal and thrive,” Sam Rivera, OnPoint NYC Executive Director Sam Rivera said in a statement.
The settlement fund board is scheduled to meet again on December 14, when board members will have a chance to respond in public to the commissioner’s letter.