New York Attorney General Letitia James began her ‘HealNY’ statewide tour earlier this month delivering $1.5 billion to communities most impacted by the opioid crisis. Meanwhile, Black and Brown communities continue being impacted by arrest and imprisonment for drug possession and a lack of drug treatment options.
Funds have been going to all 10 regions of the state from different settlements. James has negotiated her March 2019 lawsuit against the various manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid crisis.
James’ tour has been making stops in dozens of counties throughout the month. All 62 counties in New York state will receive funds from the various settlements.
“For more than two decades, New Yorkers have experienced the dire and deadly effects of opioids, but today we are starting the process of delivering up to $1.5 billion to New York’s 62 counties to help our communities rebuild,” said James earlier this month. “Today, we begin to heal New York with these funds that will help turn the tide on the opioid crisis. As we embark on a tour across the state, we are ensuring every region and every county gets financial help to recover from the devastation that opioids have inflicted on them.”
James kicked off the tour in the city in the South Bronx earlier this month presenting an over $256 million check before several elected officials. The money is to be used for continued efforts to deliver funds for opioid abatement to the five boroughs.
“On Easter morning of this year, one of my constituents, 15-year-old Olivia Green, died due to fentanyl overdose. Every year this epidemic rages on and claims thousands of lives in my district and across the state—lives that are precious and which must be saved,” said Congressmember Jamaal Bowman. “The opioid epidemic is a health crisis, a mental illness crisis, a hopelessness crisis. It must be addressed through health care and community care solutions—not incarceration, punishment, and endless cycles of cruelty.”
Since the launch of HealNY, James has been trekking across the state. This week she was in Buffalo, where she announced that she will deliver up to $75 million to Western New York to combat the opioid epidemic. James also received the “Peoples’ Champion Award” from the organization Save the Michaels of the World in Buffalo for her work and advocacy combating the opioid crisis.
While help appears to be on the way for those struggling with opioid addiction, Black and Brown New Yorkers are feeling the brunt of the criminal justice system when it comes to possession of marijuana and other drugs. According to NYPD data, New Yorkers of color made up more than 94% of arrests and summonses issued for marijuana violations and offenses in 2020. In March, state legislators passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalizing recreational cannabis in New York State.
“The data affirms that New Yorkers of color are still overwhelmingly shouldering the brunt of the NYPD’s racist marijuana enforcement while other communities get a free pass,” said Anthony Posada, supervising attorney with the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.
The AmNews asked James’ office about funding for drug treatment in Black and Brown communities. A spokesperson said across New York State, the AG’s office gave additional amounts to the cities with large Black and Hispanic populations.
“The opioid settlement fund that was signed into law at the end of June sets up an opioid advisory committee created by the state legislature,” the spokesperson said “That committee will make decisions about what projects get funded, but the money has to be allocated evenly across the state. Obviously, the advisory committee will be made up of a diverse group of individuals who will be choosing a range of projects to fund in each community, and those projects will strive to meet the needs of each diverse community across the state.”