New laws by Heroin Task Force begin to take hold

From 2002 to 2012, the number of young adults across the state, ages 18 to 25, using heroin has more than doubled. Upstate, the treatment admissions involving heroin have gone up percent. Heroin is inexpensive compared to other narcotics and it continues to be readily accessible, making it the drug of choice for many addicts. In fact, felony drug court participants that reported heroin as their drug of choice increased from 13 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2013.

One of the signature accomplishments during the 2014 legislative session was the passage of a comprehensive package of bills to combat New York State’s growing heroin and opioid crisis. The measures target prevention, treatment, and enforcement issues raised during extensive testimony provided by dozens of experts, parents, and concerned New Yorkers at the 18 forums held around the state by the Senate Majority Coalition’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, including one I hosted in my district.

As an update, I wanted to let you know that a multi-faceted media campaign – “Combat Heroin” – is now underway. This is a direct result of senate bill 7911, which I co-sponsored, that required the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the Department of Health (DOH) to establish the Heroin and Opioid Pain Addiction Awareness and Education Program.

The centerpiece of the awareness initiative is a new website,, which is targeted toward parents, adults, and young people who are seeking help and information concerning heroin and opioid abuse and misuse.

The website includes information about warning signs of heroin and opioid abuse and misuse, access to Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services treatment providers, and guidance to help parents talk to their children and healthcare professionals talk with their patients.

The campaign also includes four public service announcements and video messages from New Yorkers talking about the impact of heroin and other opioids on their lives. These personal stories really drive home the dangerous consequences associated with heroin and opioid abuse. The messages are being broadcast on television stations statewide and are available on the website as well.

Another measure which is already making a life-saving difference is senate bill 6477B which was passed earlier in the year by the senate and signed in June by the governor. The new law increases the use of the heroin antidote naloxone, which can be used to treat heroin overdoses onsite. By authorizing health care professionals to issue non-patient specific prescriptions for such medication to certified training programs and pharmacies, this increases the number of people who have naloxone when it is needed most.

In May, I partnered with Friends of Recovery of Delaware and Otsego Counties, Inc., and Otsego County Addiction Recovery Services to conduct a free training class on administering this crucial medication. Similar trainings have been taking place around the state, and, according to the governor’s office, over 15,000 persons have been trained, and in excess of 1,000 overdoses reversed.

Additionally, a bill I sponsored that was signed into law and will take effect in April of 2015, will directly confront an issue brought to light at the forum I hosted. The measure requires insurers to comply with federal substance abuse parity laws, strengthens and standardizes the utilization review process for determining insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment disorders, and requires insurers to continue to provide and reimburse for treatment throughout the appeals process.

When a heroin addict decides to seek help, it is a crucial turning point. This new law improves access to insurance coverage and ensures that moment won’t be fatally lost because of burdensome insurance paperwork, the denial of services by a bureaucrat who isn’t medically qualified to make such a decision, or drawn-out appeals.

Overall, we now have a multi-prong strategy to help combat this deadly epidemic that includes education and prevention, treatment, and tougher law enforcement.

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