The State of New York simply cannot seem to get its arms around its heroin problem. Despite a pathology of targeted and well-meaning measures, including an ambitious 2014 legislative package signed into law by Governor Cuomo, the state has had little success in curbing the abuse of heroin and similarly dangerous prescription opioids. Now with just a few weeks left in the legislative session, New York lawmakers are making another run at the issue and working to stem the tide of abuse and distribution in the empire state. With such little time left, however, it remains to be seen how much they will actually be able to accomplish.
There is widespread bi-partisan consensus that New York’s heroin and opioid problem must be addressed immediately. Last month at an event in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo called on the legislature to come up with a new plan to address the problem before they took their summer break. At the same time in Suffolk County, New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan stressed the state’s heroin problem in an address the to Long Island business community. As New York residents continue to overdose in record numbers, all agree that further action must be taken. The question is: How much can be done in such a small amount of time?
With a series of sweeping new measures, including the creation of new prevention programs and health insurance reforms, one might ask what else lawmakers could possibly do in such a short period of time. The details of the newly ordered “heroin plan” are, indeed, still unclear. Some are talking about the enhancement of treatment, others are talking about the heightened need for Narcan deployment and some are talking about raising the cap on the amount of patients to whom doctors can prescribe maintenance drugs like buprenorphine.
While it is true that heroin and prescription opioid addiction in New York is a time-sensitive matter, perhaps a more sensible approach to addressing the problem would be to maintain ongoing vigilance rather than impose eleventh-hour timetables when the problem has already spiraled out of control. The New York Legislature should indeed be commended for their proactive work on addressing heroin addiction; however, perhaps a step in the right direction would be to realize that problems like these can’t be fixed in two weeks or even two months.