The Southern Tier will be receiving up to $26.7 million in funds from Attorney General Letitia James’ HealNY tour to combat its opioid crisis.

After successfully securing funds from a lawsuit filed in March 2019 against the Sackler family — manufacturers and distributors allegedly responsible for the opioid crisis in New York — James is launching her HealNY tour to deliver funds to counties affected by the opioid epidemic. The March 2019 lawsuit was the largest lawsuit filed against distributors and manufacturers of opioids in the nation during its time.

As part of her press tour announcing HealNY, James visited United Health Services (UHS) Vestal to discuss the opioid crisis alongside various elected officials and involved members within the Broome County community. She emphasized that the opioid crisis was a nationwide problem.

“We sued Big Pharma, and now they’re paying for the tragedy that they caused, for all whose lives have been shattered or taken by the opioid crisis,” James said. “Because right now someone in America is dying of a drug overdose, someone is burying their child, someone is living in a broken family, a broken community devastated by the opioid crisis. And over the last two decades, we’ve lost three-quarters of a million fellow Americans who have died from these overdoses.”

According to James, the period of social isolation due to COVID-19 has led to a spike in opioid overdoses. James said Broome County reported over twice the number of fatal overdoses in February 2020 compared to the same time a year prior. Broome County attributes these overdoses to fentanyl.

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said at the press briefing that the opioid crisis has been a top priority for him and his fellow officials since he has taken office. On how the funding will be used, Garnar wanted to assure the county that the funding will be put entirely toward new programs and funding for services. James said the funding will go toward prevention, education and treatment.

In terms of the new programs and services Broome County has planned for the funding, Julia Hunter, a doctor specializing in addiction medicine and family medicine at UHS Vestal, said the practice of supervised withdrawal is not effective according to the data.

“We need to meet people where they are, help them achieve their goals and treat them with kindness and respect,” Hunter said.

An example of these programs are the peer services offered at UHS Binghamton General Hospital, where peer support specialists work with those dealing with opioid addictions by telling their own stories and setting examples.

“We know that the resources that we are providing here today — to Broome County — in no way can replace or bring back your loved ones,” James said. “But whatever we can do, in our collective capacity, to bring back some healing, and to know how to prevent the next family from being destroyed, then we‘ve done our job … It’s really all about helping and healing New Yorkers.”

Binghamton University is contributing to the effort against the opioid epidemic as well, being the first university certified as an Opioid Overdose Prevention Program site by the New York State Department of Health in 2019.

Bennett Doughty, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, has used research opportunities at BU to look at ways to expand the use of naloxone in the local area. He has also been a part of the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program’s initiatives to train Residential Life about the opioid crisis.

“The [opioid overdose] program will not only provide Naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal agent, but will also help in other ways,” Doughty said in an interview with BingUNews. “This program will also help reduce the stigma of opioid use disorders on campus as well as back in the home communities of many of our students.”

Anta Tall, a sophomore majoring in biology, agrees that pharmaceutical companies should fund programs that address the nationwide addiction crisis.

“As a pre-pharmacy student, I am passionate about advocating against substance abuse and learning about the pharmacology of drugs,” Tall said. “The opioid crisis is disheartening and is prevalent across college campuses all throughout America. I think the Big Pharma corporations should fund programs to help aid this crisis. As a potential pharmacy student, I aspire to get my [Doctor of Pharmacy] and become a clinical pharmacist where I can work in a hospital setting alongside doctors to deliver efficient, patient-centered care.”