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Onondaga County to use $3.7 million from opioid settlement for education, prevention


New York State settled the final cases in the battle against the opioid crisis earlier this month. The State Attorney General’s office came to terms with the final defendant in a wide-ranging case, including drug makers and pharmacies, that all had a part flooding the market with dangerously addictive drugs. Money from earlier settlements has already started to be distributed in central New York.

Onondaga County received a total of $3.7 million in opioid settlement cash, and County Executive Ryan McMahon said it will be split among six organizations, boosting some current programs already dealing with the burgeoning crisis.

"It’s not that we don’t have great partners we do, but when the problem continues to grow, you need to scale the work to get in front of it," McMahon said.

Among those getting some of the cash is Crouse Health. Addiction Treatment Services Director Monika Taylor said among other things, it will expand a program that’s proved effective, using the gentle movements of Tai Chi to help those addicted to opioids.

"Our patients need a number of different tools to deal with stress and triggers and this has worked quite well for patients, so we want to use some of the funding to look at the data on this and determine long-term effectiveness," Taylor said.

The funds will go beyond treatment and recovery to prevention and will allow the Red House Arts Center to launch an Opioid Awareness Tour. Executive Director Samara Hanna said live theatrical performances will channel a prevention education curriculum for elementary-age children.

"Our hope is to not make it scary, and not take them out to the streets and show them what’s happening," Hanna said. "But to start with the simple things, look at home. If somebody has medicine that the doctor has given them, you have to respect that and not take it, or not take a pill someone offers you. Really just finding those entry levels of where they’re exposed to pushing the boundaries of the things we put in our bodies."

The number of drug overdose deaths in Onondaga County since 2010 has quadrupled; jumping from nine per 100,000 people in 2010, to 36 per 100,000 people in 2020; the fifth highest increase in the state according to a State Comptroller’s report released this month.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.