Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin recently called attention to a national crisis when he dedicated his entire State of the State message to address what he called Vermont’s “full-blown heroin crisis.”
Like Vermont and many other states, New York is affected by the same deadly epidemic.
More and more New Yorkers, especially young people between 18 and 26, are becoming addicted to, and increasingly overdosing on, prescription medications and heroin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose.
The Clinton Health Matters Initiative tells us that the problem is largely driven by off-label pharmaceutical consumption — the vast majority involving medications obtained from family and friends.
To solve this crisis, we must take action.
First, we must raise awareness. Gov. Shumlin has done this in an extraordinary way, and we applaud his efforts.
Here in New York, the issue deserves the same attention. We cannot afford to wait a moment longer, as New York’s overdose death rate now exceeds our motor-vehicle-death rate.
So what is the answer? How do we fix this alarming public-health crisis?
The New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers Inc. recommends a comprehensive plan that includes sound policy, programs that work and the involvement of our families and communities to prevent this epidemic from continuing.
First, treatment on demand must be made available across New York state. A person seeking help should never be hindered by a lack of available treatment or an inability to pay — an unfortunate reality that discourages many people seeking recovery from their addiction.
Only 10 percent of those with an addiction are currently receiving treatment. We must make early screening a priority to effectively identify persons with addiction problems and get them into treatment.
For the 90 percent of people not accessing treatment, we need to provide better screening in primary-care settings, more access to community-based detoxification services, expanded treatment options and increased use of Naloxone — a medication that can reverse overdoses and prevent unnecessary deaths.