The New York Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) sent a letter to the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board (OSFAB) this week rejecting two of the board’s recommendations to fund harm reduction efforts under the Department of Health.  

Harm reduction includes a variety of treatments including needle exchanges, fentanyl strips, in-patient treatment and safe injection sites.  

“Harm reduction is basically one thing,” Avi Israel of Save the Michaels of the World told Capital Tonight.  “And that’s to keep a person alive. If a person isn’t alive, you can’t treat them.”

It’s arguably one of the OSFAB’s priorities — of the $128,820,000 the board was authorized to recommend, the largest percentage of the money, 22%, was to be spent on harm reduction.  

But in its letter, OASAS rejected the board’s recommendations to fund harm reduction via the Department of Health, opting instead to keep the money for its own, new, harm reduction unit. 

Here is the relevant passage:

"In compliance with this requirement, the State rejects the following Board recommendations:

Appendix A, Section 1 (pg. 25), Harm Reduction Investments
• “As reflected in the meeting minutes, all dollars for Harm Reduction will go to the Department of Health for appropriate disbursement with collaboration with other agencies.”

This recommendation violates the New York State Constitution, specifically, the Board does not have the authority to direct and spend State monies. The authority to direct and spend State monies lies with the Executive and the Legislature."

According to Israel, the OSFAB doesn’t direct or spend state money, as OASAS’ letter states. It simply recommends how to spend settlement monies.

“We as a board do not direct anything. We make recommendations,” Israel said. 

He also questioned whether the author of the letter understands the law.

“I think this letter that we got, I’m sorry to say, is hogwash. It’s garbage. It doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid. Whoever wrote it really is not an attorney,” he continued. 

OASAS’ second rejection dealt with overdose prevention centers which are not legal under federal law; however, New York City hosts two overdose prevention centers within its jurisdiction. 

In an email to Capital Tonight, OASAS spokesman Evan Frost sent the following statement:

"Harm reduction remains an important part of the OASAS continuum of care. The new harm reduction unit will continue to guide the agency’s ongoing approach to these services, including by working with other agencies and community partners to support these services to all areas of New York State."

What the letter leaves out is that DOH, not OASAS, has been at the forefront of harm reduction for over 10 years.  

Israel and other members of the addiction recovery community see these rejections as a power grab by OASAS Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham.

Dr. Cunningham has an impressive resume, including teaching medicine as a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She has also made of study of addiction and addiction treatment.

But her background doesn’t impress Israel.

“The commissioner… has an attitude that it’s my way or the highway,” he said. 

The next meeting of the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 14.