A legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
It is well-known that opioid and heroin addiction has increased throughout the nation in the last decade.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin deaths have quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, surpassing traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths.
The increase in drug use and addiction has affected every demographic, race and age group in the nation.
My colleagues and I recently held a series of hearings across the state to gather input from local officials, health care providers, parents of addicted children, and individuals addicted to heroin.
We heard testimony on the crippling effects of addiction, the cost to communities and the cost to families.
There are many sad stories.
In New York alone, there were more than 118,000 admissions to in-state treatment programs for heroin and opioid addictions, a 17.8% increase over 2009.
While these individuals have received services, there are many who have not.
Many testified at our hearings about having limited or no access to care, trouble getting insurance companies to pay for services to cure addiction, and being discharged from detoxification programs while experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
In fact, at a Senate Hearing in Washington last week, substance abuse specialists reported that only 20% of people who were in need of addiction treatment services are currently receiving them.
Last week, I stood with a number of my colleagues in Albany to urge the Governor to dedicate more resources in the budget to give law enforcement and health care workers the resources they need to combat this serious epidemic.
About two years ago, the state recognized the crisis and began administering overdose treatment kits.
These have been known to save lives, and I’m glad funds were provided to get some training and kits to paramedics and health care workers to help prevent death from overdose.
While the kits are beneficial, they do not solve the crisis.
More must be done to treat and prevent addiction.
More education on prevention needs to be provided in schools.
Education can save lives.
If individuals are aware of the dangers and know the signs to spot, they are better equip to help themselves and their family members.
We also need to provide resources to meet the needs of those facing addiction.
Unfortunately, the executive budget proposal does not include more resources for addiction and prevention.
Amid all this crisis of death and accidents caused by people under the influence, the executive budget proposes to reduce opiate abuse treatment and prevention programs by $1 million.
The Governor and the Legislature need to allocate more money for addiction treatment and to help give law enforcement tools they need as well to be effective.
This is a priority of mine.
While funding will help, it became clear at the hearings that, unfortunately, there’s often a disconnect between health care providers, insurance companies, law enforcement, the courts, and families, which perpetuates the addiction for the individual rather than helping them recover.
In other words, even if the individual is treated, they often relapse.
Many have figured out that the only way to receive help is to be arrested and then have law enforcement or the courts mandate treatment.
One person testified that she instructed her loved one to steal from a store, so they could be arrested and provided treatment from the county drug court program because other treatment options were not available.
This further complicates everything and decreases the individual’s chances for future employment as well.
The hearings, though difficult, were informative and a necessary part to seeing that more attention is given to this important public health crisis and helping us to craft legislation which addresses this issue.
I will work to make sure that our state budget will reflect the public’s demand for effective treatment.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.
You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.