The lieutenant governor and state legislators joined the group Friends of Recovery New York at its annual Stand Up for Recovery Day in Albany on Tuesday, February, 11, to call for more opioid addiction recovery programs, treatment options and legislation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seven out of every 10 drug overdose deaths were opioid related in the U.S. in 2019. Opioids include drugs such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine.
During his State of the State Address in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported the first decrease in opioid-related deaths in a decade, but Hochul and others at the Recovery Day event said a long road to ending this epidemic lies ahead.
“The numbers are trending in the right direction in terms of lives lost, but still 2,000 deaths a year are we applauding that as being a success?” said Lt Gov. Kathy Hochul at the rally.
Hochul lost her own nephew, Michael, three years ago to a fentanyl-laced opioid overdose. She is the co-chair of the Heroin and Opioid Task Force, which allows her to organize opioid outreach events and stand behind the governor’s initiatives to expand recovery treatment and advance legislation to ban illegal fentanyl analogs.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed to manage severe pain, but illegally manufactured and laced with other drugs often without the user’s knowledge. According to the CDC, fentanyl can be 50 times more potent than heroin and a 100 times more potent than morphine.
A loophole exists in New York’s controlled substances laws which do not prohibit fentanyl analogs — chemically related drugs that mimic fentanyl’s effects. Gov. Cuomo’s proposed legislation that will make fentanyl analogs subject to the same criminal sale and prosecution as other controlled substances.
The state has made efforts in recent years to create more drug prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. The Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) is one of the largest addiction services in New York.
“Over the past year we have funded the development of more than 18 recovery centers,” said NYS OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez, “ We now have 32 centers across New York helping individuals and families in recovery.”
Naloxone, known for its common brand name Narcan, is reversal medication for opioid overdose, that is largely credited for the recent decrease in opioid related deaths. There are more than 400,000 New Yorkers with naloxone training, and more than 2,000 pharmacies dispense it with no prescription needed.
Senator Pete Harkham, D- South Salem, is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. During Stand up for Recovery Day, Harkham spoke to supporters about fixing the root of substance abuse — mental health.
“ Why are people self-medicating in the first place, why are people relapsing?” said Harkham, “ Psychic and emotional pain is still there even when they are dry. “
Harkham proposed better funded community mental health networks, higher pay for treatment center staff, and changing the process for Medicaid coverage of substance abuse treatment.
In 2019, bill S.4808/A.2904 was passed that prohibits certain insurance policies from requiring prior authorization before individuals can receive medication assisted treatment for substance abuse.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, hopes to pass legislation that would also end this waiting period for patients with Medicaid seeking medication-assisted treatment services. This standard care involves using treatment drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone medications, combined with counseling. A delay in access to this service can be detrimental, or even deadly, to those in recovery.
“The road to recovery should never be limited to just those who can afford it,” Rosenthal said.
The assemblywoman is also the primary sponsor for bill A.0833/S.2161 to establish recovery programs and offer medical-assisted treatment for inmates in state and country correctional facilities.
Inmates lacking treatment during and after prison are at a greater risk for opioid related overdose. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, inmates from North Carolina were 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose within the first two weeks after being released from prison.
“You know the right approach, you have the right mediation, and the proper programs but then you aren’t offering it to the people who need it,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and announced a new task force underway in the Assembly that will be dedicated to examining the socioeconomic impacts that comes with a substance abuse disorder, such as maintaining a job and a family while battling addiction. She is also initiating legislation for certified recovery houses and safer drug consumption sites.
For those looking for recovery and support services, Friends of Recovery New York and OASAS offer peer engagement specialist and mobile outreach medication treatment for those unable to get to recovery centers.
“ Addiction is not a crime, it’s not a moral failure, it is a disease, and it’s one that we know how to treat,” said Rosenthal.