The statewide fight against heroin and opiate addiction scored a major victory Monday.
At Binghamton University in Vestal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that combats the heroin epidemic like never before, expanding treatment and strengthening enforcement in an effort to systematically reversing addiction rates by broadening public awareness campaigns.
The legislation - which includes 11 separate bills - is largely due to an overwhelming grassroots effort to curb the tide of heroin addiction, as well as the Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, a bipartisan group which examined the issue across the state for months and ultimately drafted the legislation.
"I thank the many advocates, community leaders and elected officials who have made this day possible," Cuomo said. "Heroin has become a public health crisis in communities across the nation, but today New York state is taking a stand to turn the tide on this epidemic. I am proud that we are rolling out this comprehensive and thorough response at a time when New Yorkers need it most."
The legislation includes a number of provisions to improve addiction treatment, a major point of contention among addicts who have often felt abandoned by a system awash in bureaucracy.
Notable provisions will: improve access to care by requiring insurers to use recognized, evidence-based and peer-reviewed clinical review criteria when deciding whether coverage is necessary; ensure medical necessity decisions are made by medical professionals; and create a new demonstration program that will divert patients who do not need in-patient detoxification, but still need treatment, to appropriate services and facilities.
"I think these (provisions) will really be helping consumers," said Pat Brinkman, county director of mental hygiene. "One of the big issues has been insurance companies unwillingness to pay for individuals to access higher levels of care such as inpatient or detox services. By mandating that there is a standard protocol by which all of these admissions will be judged will (ensure that consumers) are being judged fairly. So hopefully we'll see more individuals being able to receive those services that they need over time."
The legislation also cracks down heavily on illegal drug distribution, aimed specifically at doctors and pharmacists who write bogus prescriptions for cash now a class C felony. Law enforcement will also have the ability to access eavesdropping warrants to fully investigate crimes involving drug distribution.
"Increasing the penalties on dealers is a positive step forward," said Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff.
Naloxone anti-overdose kits will also be distributed to every police officer and first responder. Pharmacists can also distribute it. Kits are now required to have an informational card which outlines overdose symptoms and necessary steps to take.
The legislation's final provisions involve expanding public awareness campaigns to educate New Yorkers, particularly young people, about the dangers of heroin and opioid use. Public forums, social media and advertising are all viable venues to reach out to the masses, according to the legislation.
"We have been fighting for this for a long time," said Rick Huber, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Jamestown. "(All of these provisions) are really really powerful and if used correctly, will really make an impact."