ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — A board to determine how New York will spend $1.5 billion for opioid lawsuits met for the first time today. The money comes from settlements against opioid manufacturers. 

Some members on the board include those who have struggled with opioid addiction themselves or even lost loved ones to the epidemic. Other members include doctors who specialize in addiction medicine. 

The bulk of their discussion was logistics: members’ responsibilities and ethics, such as avoiding conflicts of interests and not participating in potential financial conflicts. One way the settlement funding will be used includes harm reduction.

Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett says it’s not only about saving lives, but meeting people where they are. “We really have to think of harm reduction that’s a bigger umbrella than just safe syringe exchange, access to medical management of opioid use disorders,” said Dr. Bassett.

Avi Israel is President and Founder of Save the Michaels of the World. Israel lost his son 11 years ago to suicide, due to addiction. He says it’s crucial the funds be distributed fairly, “We intend to make sure that every penny goes to the people who need it.. Cattaraugus County, or any other county in New York State, gets the same kind of respect and funding that the big cities do,” he said.  

Members also briefly discussed a statewide educational campaign. While not a board member, Senator Peter Harckham is 36 years sober and chair of the alcoholism and substance abuse committee.

“I think we need to educate folks on several things, one is early prevention and things like mental health services. You know the people who self medicate for mental health services are the opioid users of tomorrow, that’s why we’re focusing on getting mental health assistance in schools,” he said.

The Board was scheduled to appoint a chair today, but that was postponed because five members were unable to make this meeting. Appointing a chairperson will be first on the agenda the next time they convene which is on June 28th.