LAC Applauds Governor Cuomo and the NYS Legislature for Requiring Drug Courts to Permit Opioid Addiction Medication

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 1, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT: Sebastian Solomon, (212)-243-1313, [email protected]

October 1, 2015- New York, NY – The Legal Action Center (LAC) applauds Governor Cuomo’s decision to sign into law S4239B/A6255B, which requires drug courts to permit individuals to receive life-saving medication for opioid addiction. The law prohibits a common practice in some courts of requiring defendants to stop taking prescribed medication such as methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone) or naltrexone (Vivitrol), regardless of how well they are working. The use of these medications, alongside counseling and behavioral therapies, is the most effective form of treatment for many individuals struggling with opioid addiction, according to hundreds of scientific studies. LAC also commends the two houses of the New York State Legislature for both passing this critical piece of legislation unanimously.

According to Legal Action Center Director and President Paul Samuels, “This farsighted law addresses a misguided and dangerous practice in some drug courts: requiring defendants to stop taking life-saving addiction medication, against their physicians’ recommendations and counter to all objective medical evidence. These practices, which are at odds with decades of scientific research, put individuals with opioid addiction in a catch-22: stop taking effective medication and risk relapse or continue medication and face incarceration. The consequences of these practices include relapse, overdose, and death. With this law, Governor Cuomo and the legislature have wisely chosen to keep New York State at the forefront of sensible drug policy reforms by promoting best practices for addiction care.”

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in America, surpassing traffic fatalities, with more than 36,000 deaths annually. Opiate addiction has become an epidemic over the last decade, with opiate pain relievers leading to more deaths than those from all illegal drugs combined. There is overwhelming evidence that FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a safe and effective way to treat addiction. However, because of mistaken beliefs about these medications, courts sometimes require individuals to stop treatment despite the risks of relapse, overdose and death.

In addition to promoting best practices and saving lives, this new law will also save the state money, considering the cost of incarceration in a New York State prison averages more than $60,000 annually while the average cost of MAT is approximately $4,000 annually. The law will also enable New York’s courts to qualify for funding under new requirements announced by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Earlier this year, these two entities announced that drug courts applying for new federal funding could no longer deny individuals access to MAT as a condition of participation.

For more information, check out LAC’s report from earlier this year urging policymakers to take steps to address the growing opioid and heroin epidemic through more effective use of MAT.

LAC also has a self-help tool to advise people on how to advocate for themselves if they are being ordered off of their addiction medications and click here for additional guidance from LAC.

And keep an eye-out for LAC’s soon-to-be-released report on recommended practices for medication-assisted treatments in New York State drug courts, developed with the New York State Office of Court Administration and the Center for Court Innovation.

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About the Legal Action Center: The Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.

For four decades, LAC has worked to combat the stigma and prejudice that keep these individuals out of the mainstream of society. The Legal Action Center is committed to helping people reclaim their lives, maintain their dignity, and participate fully in society as productive, responsible citizens.

For more information, visit https://www.lac.org/, or follow LAC on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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