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Suffolk County Accepts Over $50M In Opioid Settlements

Douglas Healey

Suffolk County lawmakers voted unanimously on Monday to accept millions of dollars in settlements from pharmaceutical companies. They sued the drug makers for their role in the over-prescription of opioids.

As part of the settlements, Johnston & Johnston and Purdue Pharma could pay nearly $20 million each over the next decade. Rite Aid, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies will pay under $5 million each.

Rob Calarco, the presiding officer of the county Legislature, said the settlements end litigation against some drugmakers — but not all — that are being sued right now in a Long Island court by the county and state.

“The pharmaceutical companies created an atmosphere and disseminated misinformation about the effectiveness and the safety of using opioids for chronic pain management,” Calarco said.

He said the money from Johnston & Johnston and Purdue Pharma must be spent on substance use prevention and treatment. Calarco said the county will decide how to spend the rest of the money, including “for the consequential law enforcement actions that have had to happen.” That includes community policing, overdose reversal kits and response training.

The drug companies said the settlements are not an admission of any wrongdoing.

Calarco said he personally would have liked to see Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma “pay more for their deceptive role in the opioid epidemic.”

The settlements were discussed in executive session, out of reach of the public, because of pending litigation. Legislator William Spencer, a physician who last year was arrested for exchanging painkillers for sex, participated in the voting.

“He is a duly elected official,” Calarco said. “He is allowed to be involved in the process until he is found guilty in a court of law, resigns or reaches the end of his term.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.