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Gov. Cuomo, Lawmakers To Combat Heroin Crisis With Trio Of Bills

By Keri Blakinger 06/20/16

While the bills address treatment and prevention, activists argue that a provision that would allow forced detox of drug users would create an adverse effect. 

Gov. Cuomo, Lawmakers To Combat Heroin Crisis With Trio Of Bills

New York state politicians announced last week that they reached an agreement on proposed anti-heroin legislation—but at least one aspect of it is drawing criticism from drug policy activists. 

The trio of bills is intended to address treatment and prevention by, in part, allowing drug users to get inpatient treatment without waiting for insurance approval, according to the Albany Times-Union. But president of the New York Health Plan Association, Paul Macielak, has called the bill “not truly comprehensive" and said it would create a "hodgepodge of treatment services with significant gaps."

The bills also limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for acute pain, a provision that doctors have opposed. Currently the limit is 30 days.  

"New York and the nation as a whole is grappling with how to combat heroin and opioid addiction and, with this comprehensive plan, we are continuing to take decisive action to end this epidemic and protect our families and communities," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "This multi-faceted legislative package will increase access to treatment, expand prevention strategies, and save lives by helping ensure New Yorkers struggling with addiction have access to the services and resources they need to get well."

Activists argue that one specific provision of the bills may have the opposite effect, though. The package of bills would make it legal for health care facilities to detain drug users for up to 72 hours against their will, a proposal the Drug Policy Alliance has condemned in a scathing statement released last week. 

“Holding someone against their will and potentially forcing them to detox is not drug treatment,” the DPA wrote. Worse, it could increase the number of fatal overdoses, the group argued. 

“A short term involuntary hold, whether for 48 or 72 hours, is very unlikely to result in sustained abstinence. There is strong likelihood of relapse following a forced detoxification. Forced abstinence will rapidly reduce opioid-dependent people’s tolerance, which consequently increases the risk of subsequent fatal overdose. If enacted, this legislation may lead to preventable overdose deaths,” the statement reads.

The package of proposed legislation also includes less controversial actions like mandating insurance coverage for naloxone, requiring hospitals to provide discharge planning after an overdose, and requiring ongoing education on addiction and pain management for physicians. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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