State will spend $213 million to fight opioid addiction

On April 19 at the THRIVE Long Island Recovery Center in Hauppauge, Long Island, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will allocate $213 million for drug recovery institutions and programs statewide to battle the current heroin and opioid epidemic, which he calls “the worst drug scourge this nation has ever seen.”

This aggressive budget allocation stems from a series of actions the governor has been taking to address the spike in opioid and heroin abuse. According to data released last year by the New York City Health Department, in New York City heroin overdose death rates increased by 158 percent from 2010 to 2015, and heroin was involved in 59 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2015.

In addition, there has been a sharp increase in heroin related deaths outside of New York City.

“It’s nothing that a parent can do alone, or a teacher can do alone, but if we come together and we work together and we dedicate ourselves to solving this problem, we can do it,” said Cuomo. “I’ve been governor long enough to know, when we come together there is nothing like New Yorkers together and New Yorkers unified.”

Last year Cuomo created a heroin and opioid task force composed of health care providers, policy advocates, educators, parents, and other experts to study the problem and make recommendations to him on what the community needed in terms of drug recovery.

The state Assembly and state Senate have also held a series of hearings around the state over the last several years to study the problem.

Some of the specific recommendations that have come from those studies and hearing include reducing 30-day opioid prescriptions down to seven days, which was passed last year as part of a package of bills to combat opioid and heroin addiction.

Many experts believe the current epidemic took root because opioid painkillers had been overprescribed, giving teens easy access to pills in their parents’ medicine cabinets. Once addicted, heroin becomes a cheaper alternative to brand name painkillers.

Other changes in the last few years include expanding insurance coverage for addiction treatment, increasing treatment centers, passing the I-STOP law to better track who is getting opioid prescriptions, launching a public awareness campaign.

Linda Ventura, whose son lost his life in a struggle against opioid addiction, pushed for some of these reforms.

“Unfortunately at the age of 15 he started to dabble with marijuana and alcohol,” Ventura said, referring to her son Thomas. “And unfortunately a few short years later he succumbed to substance abuse disorder.”

The specific allocations in the fiscal year 2018 budget include:
• $65 million for 8,000 residential treatment beds
• $9 million for housing units
• $41 million for opioid treatment programs
• $21 million for outpatient services
• $9 million for crisis and detox programs
• $27 million for state-operated addiction treatment centers
• $6 million for Naloxone kits and training which can help revive a person who has overdosed, and
• $25 million for expanded programs, including family support navigators, peer engagement and 24/7 urgent access centers

“The money we’re investing is huge to the field but in the realm of the New York state budget it’s still not a lot of money,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who attended the bill signing. “But every dollar we invest goes a very long way, and the governor’s budget is an excellent start.”