Faced with a spiraling epidemic of heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation limiting the supply of opioids, eliminating some insurance requirements and increasing the state’s capacity for treatment.
In addition, state lawmakers have proposed a broad package of bills aimed at the unrelenting wave of overdose deaths and continued problems from heroin and opioid abuse.
The tough new laws, recommended by the governor's Heroin and Opioids Task Force, require insurance companies to pay for 21 days of rehab without the need for patients to get pre-authorization for treatment. Drug treatment advocates say the legislation is important because pre-authorization can often take days, giving an addict time to change their mind about seeking help.
“New York is leading the way forward in the fight against heroin and opioid addiction, and with this legislation, we are taking an affirmative stand for our families and communities who have suffered from this epidemic’s debilitating effects,” Cuomo said.
The new laws limit opiate prescriptions, such as Oxycontin and Oxycodone, to a seven-day supply instead of 30; add an extra 270 beds and 2,335 program slots for opioid treatment while also mandating prescriber education on pain management.
“Lives are being tragically and needlessly ruined and lost in New York and across the nation,” said State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr.
Despite a recent report by PBS Newshour that showed prescriptions for opioids have declined in the last three years, city and federal statistics reveal that overdose deaths have continued to rise. City health department statistics show that deaths attributed to unintentional opioid overdoses rose by 56 percent between 2010 and 2014, with 79 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2014 involving some form of opioid, including heroin and powerful prescription painkillers.
Further, a recent report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revealed 2014 heroin-related overdose deaths in the state hit a record 825, an increase of 24 percen, from 2013.
A separate package of legislation approved by the Senate and now being discussed in the Assembly, includes stiffer penalties for heroin or opioid sales, tighter restrictions on access to dangerous drugs such as Fentanyl, and more public education about dangerous legal and illegal drugs.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer for Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehab organization, is a leading expert on the opioid and heroin crisis. Through his organization, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, he ahs been trying to get physicians to prescribe opioids more responsibly.
Kolodny says that the heroin and opioid crisis has been fueled by doctors writing too many prescriptions for opioid painkillers to alleviate common ailments such as back pain and minor surgical procedures.
“We shouldn’t be prescribing opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, or Percocet ... for short-term ailments as they likely do more harm than good,” he says.