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Package of bills to combat heroin, opioid and prescription drug abuse epidemic

ALBANY - Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced an agreement has been reached on a series of bills to help address the growing heroin and opioid epidemic, as well as prescription drug abuse, in New York State. The legislation includes new programs and insurance reforms to improve treatment options for individuals suffering from heroin and opioid addiction; measures to strengthen penalties and put in place additional tools for law enforcement to crack down on the distribution of illegal drugs; provisions to ensure the proper and safe use of naloxone; and support for enhanced public awareness campaigns to prevent drug abuse.

This legislation adds to the State's comprehensive efforts to combat the rise of heroin use. Last week Governor Cuomo announced a series of new initiatives including the addition of 100 experienced investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team; new efforts to make supplies of naloxone, an overdose antidote, available to all first responder units in the State; and the launch of a targeted awareness campaign that will take place on all public college and university campuses. In 2011, the Governor signed the “Good Samaritan 911 law" to protect individuals who seek medical assistance for a person experiencing a drug overdose or other life-threatening medical emergency from prosecution and arrest for certain drug crimes.

"Heroin abuse is a public health crisis in the state of New York, and a top priority for the end of session was to reach an agreement on an effective bill to combat this epidemic. Today I am proud to say that together, we have achieved that," Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “By introducing tougher laws and new programs to protect all New Yorkers – especially the youngest in our communities, who represent a frightening share of heroin victims – we are taking an aggressive stance to fight the dangers of drug abuse. Combined with the other actions our administration is taking, including nearly doubling the size of the State Police’s narcotics enforcement arm and training SUNY and CUNY personnel to administer anti-overdose medication, this bill furthers the thorough and comprehensive approach we need to crack down on this growing epidemic. I commend the legislative leaders and their colleagues who helped forge this agreement, and I urge the full legislature to pass it and join us on a measure that truly will save lives.”

Heroin is a highly addictive narcotic, with users representing a variety of ages, races and other backgrounds. Fatal overdose, the contraction of Hepatitis C and/or HIV and addiction and dependence are among a plethora of negative side effects that can result from heroin use. In addition to physical danger, heroin use threatens a user’s social ties – often straining family bonds, friendships and professional relationships.

Across the nation, heroin abuse 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 New York State alone, an increase from 63,793 in 2004. During this same time period, the drug also disproportionately impacted New Yorkers ranging in age from 18 to 24. Nationally, as many as 467,000 people were reportedly abusing heroin or suffering from heroin dependence in 2012.

The legislation includes the following provisions to help support treatment of individuals with substance addiction problems:

  • Enables individuals requiring treatment to have access to an expedited appeals process and ensures that they are not denied care while the appeals process is underway.
  • Improves access to care by requiring insurers to use recognized, evidence-based and peer-reviewed clinical review criteria, approved by the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), when making decisions regarding the medical necessity of treatment. This will require insurers to consistently cover the appropriate level of treatment for patients suffering from substance use disorders.
  • Ensures medical necessity decisions are made by medical professionals who specialize in behavioral health and substance use.
  • Creates a new demonstration program aimed at designing a new model of care that would divert patients who do not need in-hospital detoxification, but still need treatment, to appropriate services and facilities. This program would provide alternative short term community based treatment, avoiding unnecessary emergency room costs as well as enabling OASAS to study the effectiveness of the new approaches to address the needs of individuals suffering with substance addiction.
  • Directs OASAS to create a wraparound services demonstration program to provide services to adolescents and adults for up to nine months after the successful completion of a treatment program. These services would be in the form of case management services that address education, legal, financial, social, childcare, and other supports. These services will help former patients improve their quality of life and greatly reduce the likelihood of relapse.
  • Provides that young people alleged to be suffering from a substance use disorder – which could make the youth a danger to himself or herself or others – can be assessed by an OASAS certified provider as part of Person In Need of Supervision (PINS) diversion services.