Legislature opts in to opioid settlement

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 1/18/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature marked the first committee meetings of 2022 with a snap emergency meeting.

The meeting notice was released at 10:09 a.m. on January 13; the …

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Legislature opts in to opioid settlement

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MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature marked the first committee meetings of 2022 with a snap emergency meeting.

The meeting notice was released at 10:09 a.m. on January 13; the meeting itself was held less than an hour later, after the regularly scheduled meeting of the economic development committee.

The reason for the emergency meeting was to opt into a settlement agreement with the opioid manufacturer Allergan.

According to county attorney Michael McGuire, the total settlement (split between all the counties of New York) came out to $125 million, of which Suffolk and Nassau counties (as the counties that had carried out the lawsuit and bore the legal costs) would get the lion’s share.

Sullivan County would get $377,774, with 50 percent restricted to being spent on programs to combat the opioid epidemic and 50 percent unrestricted.

The emergency meeting was necessary because the county only received the proposed settlement the previous Friday, said McGuire, and needed to opt in by Tuesday, January 18.

Legislators Nadia Rajsz and Joe Perrello asked what the unrestricted 50 percent would be used for, and advocated that the entire amount go toward assisting with opioid-related issues.

The drug task force was working on a list of requests, said county manager Josh Potosek.

Legislator Ira Steingart asked whether anyone had done the analytics and checked whether Sullivan County was getting its fair share of the settlement.

Each county had been allocated funds according to an objective formula, said McGuire. It was a fair deal, he added, considering that the county had had minimal exposure as a plaintiff.

The resolution passed 6-0.

Public safety committee

Earlier in the meeting, the legislature had heard start-of-the-year updates from the county’s emergency services during the public safety committee meeting.

John Hauschild, Sullivan County’s fire coordinator, said that the county’s emergency services were busy with structure fires. There had been four so far, and the county had to find placement for the displaced family members.

A spike in COVID-19 cases had made emergency services busier as well, said Alex Rau, the county’s 911 coordinator. He praised the EMT responders who had to lock themselves in the backs of ambulances with patients who had COVID-19.

He urged that county residents not use hospital emergency rooms as COVID-19 testing sites except in emergencies, to avoid backing up and overflowing hospitals.

Pennie Huber, acting director of the Sullivan County Probation Department, said that the department was busy with probation cases. It had taken 22 new cases in December, and was encountering lots of new cases due to the state’s bail reform.

On behalf of the drug task force, Wendy Brown, the deputy commissioner of health and family services, spoke to the county’s partnership with Hope Not Handcuffs, a program that connects people with substance abuse disorders with treatment. Since the program started in the fall, 17 people had been referred through Hope Not Handcuffs, and the drug task force was going to try and hold a fundraiser for the program in the spring.

County undersheriff Eric Chaboty said that with New York’s eviction moratorium expiring the following week, the sheriff’s office was expecting to evict a lot of people for not paying rent.

Following presentations, Rajsz said that she agreed with Rau that people shouldn’t inundate hospitals to get tested for COVID-19, and asked where people could get test kits to avoid that situation.

Potosek said that the county was supposed to get 5,000 test kits that day or the next, and another 10,000 the next week. The county hopes to spread those kits through various avenues to as many places as possible, and was working on getting a testing facility.

During the public comment period, frequent commenter Ken Walter responded to Chaboty’s comments about eviction. He asked where people getting evicted would go, and said there should be way to mitigate the situation so people didn’t get evicted.

Walter advocated that the chair of each committee should sit at the head of the room while running their committee, making it easier for people watching the session remotely to identify them.

The legislators present agreed, and for the committee meetings following, their respective chairs took the hearing room’s central seat on the dias.

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