03 Sep New York Passes Series of Drug-Abuse Related Bills
On June 18, 2014, the New York state legislature passed a series of bills that will affect drug abuse prevention, drug abuse treatment and drug distribution penalties throughout the state.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the state legislature had made it clear that addressing the state’s opioid abuse problem was a priority before the end of the legislative session on June 19th. Lawmakers hope that the new measures will improve access to treatment for many people with opioid addictions and also provide more tools for law enforcement when it comes to disrupting the illegal sale of prescription and street opioids.
A total of 23 bills were passed earlier in June by the state Senate, and 11 of those eventually made it through the Assembly to be signed into law by Governor Cuomo. Among the bills that did not make it through was a measure that would have made it possible to prosecute drug dealers for murder if one of their sales lead to a fatality.
A Statewide and Nationwide Problem
Opioid abuse has become one of the largest health concerns facing the state of New York. There were a total of 89,269 cases of heroin or prescription opioid treatment in the state in 2013, which is up significantly from the 63,793 cases of treatment in 2004. Overdose deaths have also increased, and many of those seeking treatment for abuse or addiction were young people between the ages of 18 and 24.
New York is certainly not the only state to be affected by the increasing rate of opioid abuse, which has become a national epidemic. But the state is often influential because of its size and relative affluence, so there has been nationwide interest in New York’s latest legislative solutions to opioid drug use.
Insurance Companies and Access to Treatment
Several of the newly enacted measures are designed to improve access to treatment for people dealing with opioid addiction. These measures largely address interactions between insurers and drug users in an effort to ensure that those in genuine need of addiction treatment are not denied coverage.
Patients can now take advantage of an expedited appeals process without treatment interruption while insurance companies are making decisions about treatment coverage. Up to now, addiction treatment could be interrupted while insurance companies decided what kind of treatment—if any—was medically necessary and therefore covered under a patient’s insurance plan. The new legislation also requires insurers to use the clinical criteria determined by the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and cases must be reviewed by substance abuse specialists.
Critics Cite an Emphasis on Punishment
Despite these measures to improve access to care, some critics of the new legislation feel that there is too much emphasis overall on punitive measures rather than prevention and treatment.
Among the new punitive measures is the option for prosecutors to pursue stiffer sentences against doctors and pharmacists who sell prescription opioids illegally. Many opioid addictions begin with prescription drugs, and recent years have seen large numbers of people become addicted to prescription opioids only to turn to heroin because of its relative cheapness and because it is comparatively easy to obtain.
The New York lawmakers also passed legislation designed to make it harder for patients to “doctor shop” and get the same prescription medications from multiple sources. Some patients doctor shop in order to personally misuse or abuse a certain drug, while others will illegally sell the drugs they do not need for profit.
Prevention and Payment
In addition to treatment and punitive measures, the legislation passed on the 18th also initiates a new public awareness campaign about opioid misuse and abuse. However, the new legislation does not specify a funding strategy for this campaign or for the costs associated with the other new measures. Without a certain amount of money dedicated to spreading awareness and enforcing the other new legislation, some fear that the bills will not be able to have any noticeable impact on New York’s opioid problem.
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