Legal Action Center Urges New York State to Take New and Bold Steps to Combat the Prescription Drug and Heroin Epidemic

New York, NY (Jan 9, 2015) – New York State should take additional forceful, targeted actions to address the public health emergency of prescription drug and heroin dependence, according to the Legal Action Center. “Using $298 million that has been allocated to its Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) for 2015, the State now has an opportunity to create even more momentum in its efforts to combat the scourge of addiction and prescription drug and heroin misuse,” according to Paul Samuels, Director and President of the Legal Action Center in New York City.

In July 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature enacted forceful, bi-partisan legislation that makes New York State a national leader in responding to the growing heroin and opioid epidemic. The legislation expanded effective addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services. It also created a powerful public education campaign, Combat Heroin.

Now New York State must take the next steps to implement this critically important initiative,” noted the Legal Action Center in a “Budget Request,” a proposal for funding to OASAS for FY 2015, submitted last month with Acacia Network, Phoenix House, Samaritan Village, and Veritas Villa Foundation, Inc. and in coordination with New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP).

“Fortunately, pursuant to New York State’s asset forfeiture law, $298 million has been allocated to the State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) from recent financial settlements totaling $5 billion,” according to the budget request. “That funding could not have come at a better time, as a portion of those funds can pay for the one-time investments needed to mount an effective response to this public health emergency.”

The Legal Action Center has made specific recommendations for this newly allocated money, urging OASAS to:

The initial media campaign was very effective. OASAS should build on this success with a next phase that addresses more diverse needs and populations, including targeting veterans and communities of color in addition to suburban and upstate communities. 

  • Expand, modernize and improve services for young people, veterans, communities of color, women and children, the LGBT community, seniors, rural communities, justice-involved individuals and other New Yorkers ($50 million)

Addiction services available to some communities need to be strengthened in order to keep pace with relatively new trends in treatment, bolstered by scientific research that has identified best practices. For example, in addition to Methadone, other medications such as Buprenorphine/Naloxone as well as Naltrexone have been shown to be effective on an outpatient basis for many people with addictions. There are also new models that involve short-term acute treatment for substance use disorders, which may include some combination of residential, and/or inpatient services, intensive outpatient and more relapse prevention and recovery supports. It is also clear that integrating a range of medical and social services with substance use treatment can improve outcomes. More New Yorkers from all walks of life need the opportunity to take advantage of these medications and services.

To its credit, OASAS has already taken important steps to modernize outpatient and residential treatment for adolescents and adults in New York State, and to better integrate addiction, mental health and physical health care services. Seed funding for additional model programs and new capital investments will enable the agency and treatment providers to continue this progress, saving lives and improving the health of New Yorkers with diverse backgrounds.

  • Build the substance use treatment infrastructure in order to support healthcare reform and prepare for Medicaid managed care ($50 million).

Many programs for substance users do not have adequate (let alone state-of-the-art) computer systems, electronic health records and other technology needed to implement health care reform. Therefore, as the health care system is transformed in New York State, there is a dire need for more investment in the infrastructure and operations of substance use treatment programs.

Moreover, many of these programs will find it difficult to navigate the State’s transition to Medicaid managed care without help. In order to keep operating, service providers throughout the State will need assistance with billing, negotiating contracts with insurers, record keeping and other requirements. Trainers and consultants with the requisite expertise must be readily available to them.

Like the rest of the nation, heroin and prescription opioid misuse in New York State has been increasing at dangerously high rates in recent years. In 2013, there were 89,269 cases of heroin and prescription opiate treatment admissions in the state, an increase from 63,793 in 2004. During this same time period, this problem disproportionately impacted New Yorkers ranging in age from 18 to 24.

The new infusion of money from settlement funds, significant as it is, is not sufficient to adequately address this public health crisis and ensure that treatment for addiction is available to all New Yorkers who need it. But if this money is spent wisely by New York State, it is possible to make an important dent in the problem and lay the groundwork for more progress in the future.

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