Will Gov. Cuomo's Anti-Heroin Task Force Make An Impact On The Opiate Epidemic?

By Zachary Siegel 05/12/16

The task force will take the state's efforts to expand access to naloxone and monitor prescriptions for scheduled substances to "the next level."

Will Gov. Cuomo's Anti-Heroin Task Force Make An Impact On The Opiate Epidemic?
Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of a new state-sponsored heroin task force on Tuesday, promising to build on previous efforts to stem opioid abuse in the state.

The 23-member panel—comprised of health care and drug policy experts, educators, families, and recovering addicts—has been charged with implementing a comprehensive action plan to curb the heroin crisis in New York, according to Cuomo's office. A statement from the governor's office said the task force will hold listening sessions with the public across New York, to inform its action plan.

Mortality related to opioids is on the rise throughout New York. Between 2008 and 2012, deaths from heroin poisoning jumped from 215 to 478—a 122% increase. In New York City, there was an 84% increase in heroin poisonings between 2010 and 2012, but the majority of autopsies found multiple substances present in the body of the deceased, typically alcohol and or benzodiazepines.

“Heroin and opioid deaths in New York State have reached unconscionable levels,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who will co-chair the task force. “We will leave no stone unturned in our quest to find ways to not only prevent, but also break the cycle of addiction that has destroyed so many lives in our state.”

With mortality on the rise, the governor was compelled to intervene. "We will use the task force's recommendations to implement smart solutions that will protect public health, enhance safety in communities statewide and save the lives of vulnerable New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement. Previous efforts to address the opioid crisis in New York include strict prescription drug monitoring for Schedule II, III, and IV controlled substances, as well as expanding access to naloxone, the antidote to opiate overdose. "The Heroin Task Force will take these efforts to the next level with a comprehensive action plan developed by a diverse coalition of experts," Cuomo said.

In times of such crisis, public health officials recommend policy approaches that specifically reduce harm related to drug use. For instance, the mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick, boldly proposed opening the country's first supervised injection facility, which have shown promise in reducing mortality and blood-borne disease. Other approaches proven to reduce mortality involve the expansion of medication-assisted treatments, such as methadone and Suboxone, over traditional abstinence-based programs. 

Having promised the people of New York direct action be taken on his behalf, The Fix will closely follow the solutions coming out of Gov. Cuomo’s task force. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.