Ulster County will receive up to $7.9 million as part of a statewide settlement agreement between Ulster County, Johnson & Johnson and other opioid companies who were found to have played a role in creating the opioid epidemic.
The money will be used to support drug recovery through diversion programs, drug court and efforts to prevent the sale of drugs in the county, says Ulster County District Attorney Dave Clegg.
On Sept. 19, the Field of Dreams hosted the fourth annual Recovery Fest in New Paltz. The festival is a day to honor people’s journeys of recovery from substance use and opioid use disorders, but it’s also a day of fun and support.
Various wellness practitioners provided free samples to therapeutic modalities including: “trauma-informed” yoga, reiki, acupuncture and music therapy. A range of treatment providers offered information on their services, and a few speakers were present to discuss recovery and give inspirational talks. Narcan training was also available.
“Here in Ulster County, we have a network of practitioners working extremely hard, and working together, to aid in that transition back to normalcy for people who have suffered from addictions. There’s a strong commitment to collaboration,” says Phoenix Kawamoto, head of the Office for Community Wellness in New Paltz.
Ulster County’s executive budget dedicated nearly $1 million to opioid use prevention, following a 94% increase in opioid-related fatalities in Ulster County, largely as a result of COVID-19.
The additional settlement funds will be used as part of Ulster County’s effort to fight against the opioid crisis. The first payment is expected in February of 2022 and will continue to receive payments over the course of the next 18 years.
“It is about time that these pharmaceutical companies are held accountable for what they have done,” County Executive Pat Ryan said. “I am going to continue to do everything in my power to seek justice for those who we have lost. Now more than ever it is critical that we do all that we can to ramp up and prioritize combating the opioid epidemic. These settlement funds will go a long way in allowing us to continue to do critical work that will ultimately save lives. I remain committed to making tackling the opioid crisis a top priority of Ulster County.”
Fest collaborators included Step One Child and Family Guidance, Inc., which provides family-oriented treatment for chemical dependence at sites in Highland, Ellenville, Lake Katrine and Kingston; and the Ulster Prevention Council, a Kingston-based program of Family Services, Inc. that provides evidence-based substance use prevention workshops in Ulster County schools, agencies and the community.
This year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that opioid-related fatalities reached its highest number ever recorded in over a 12-month span. However, due to the county’s extensive harm reduction efforts and interventions, the overdose fatality rate dropped sharply from 20% in 2018 to 13.5% in 2020.
“It has long been known that the overprescribing of opioid painkillers was at the forefront of causing our current opioid abuse epidemic,” Ulster County Legislator Eve Walter said. “We have been paying for this in our county and country; it is important that the pharmaceutical companies responsible now pay as well.”
One of the big attractions of Recovery Fest, besides the music provided by DJ Jay Smooth, was the 1 p.m. drum circle and a free barbecue. Additionally, the fest has a bounce house, face painting by SUNY New Paltz student volunteers, outdoor games and a sprinkler.
“Ulster County, like so many other communities, has suffered greatly by the actions of Purdue Pharma, among others,” Ulster County Legislator Craig Lopez said. “I am thankful that the county has taken this public health crisis seriously and made real progress in getting Ulster County families the help they need. These settlement dollars will go a long way in helping us increase those services, improve delivery and intensify outreach to individuals struggling with substance use disorder. I, and the members of the Public Health and Social Services Committee are committed to working with County Executive Ryan to ensure these dollars are well spent.”