Heroin epidemic calls for legislative attention

New York State has recently seen a dramatic increase in heroin and other opioid-related overdoses. From New York City and Long Island to upstate, the epidemic has spread rapidly. In the midst of this public health issue, political leaders such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state police forces are giving their best efforts to keep the drugs off the streets. Even with increased attention directed at heroin abuse, the rates of overdoses, addicts and drug availability continue to rise. This issue is not one political parties can—or should—disagree on, and the epidemic is not one to be politicized. There needs to be a greater focus on combatting the heroin epidemic, and the forces responsible need to enact specific measures to address target problems.

Citing data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 10,574 reported deaths from heroin overdoses in 2014 alone. A decade ago, statistics showed that there were only approximately 2,000 heroin deaths in 2004. Numbers like these prove the drastic increase in heroin overdoses as of late.

This skyrocketing data of heroin-related deaths has prompted not only state politicians to work on the issue, but national leaders as well. After requesting $1.1 billion from Congress for a new drug treatment plan earlier this year, the Obama administration urged Congress to approve the funds. In addition, this week was declared Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week on Monday Sept. 19.

With regard to more regional efforts, Cuomo introduced the Heroin Task Force in May in order to “build upon the state’s previous efforts and develop a comprehensive statewide plan to break the cycle of opioid addiction in New York.” Additionally, the 2016-2017 budget allocated more than $1.4 billion for drug prevention and recovery programs in the NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. Even here in Geneseo, Geneseo First Responders are now taught how to administer the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone––commonly known as Narcan.

Although these efforts are admirable, the epidemic persists. Many New Yorkers wonder why rehabilitation isn’t more widely available or used—which leads to one of the biggest Achilles’ heels in helping to treat heroin addicts.

According to Rehabs.com, standard rehab centers cost anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 a month. Luxury rehab centers, on the other hand, have the highest-rated patient care, but can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 a month. When you take into account that addicts do not receive an income during treatment and many do not have any savings or health insurance, it is clear why entering rehabilitation can be considered impossible.

We need to make rehabilitation services more readily available while improving other areas that allow heroin to become so accessible. For instance, Canada just passed legislation during the week of Sept. 11 allowing healthcare professionals to apply for access to medical heroin and to prescribe it to addicts who have been unsuccessful with other treatments.

This specific kind of medical heroin is less dangerous than the true opioid and helps addicts to focus on their treatment instead of their need for illegal drugs. Although this technique in treatment is extremely new, it does look promising and is a model that the United States should look into.

The ongoing epidemic of heroin addiction and death is present every day within our communities, whether we see the effects firsthand or not. Inner-city, suburb and even upper-middle class areas face tragic overdoses daily—which is why this terrible spread of heroin must be addressed immediately or the entire public will continue to be plagued.u