New laws and policies are urgently needed to combat the burgeoning “crisis” of heroin and opioid painkiller addiction on Long Island and statewide, local experts told a state panel that stopped in Farmingdale on Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed the heroin and opioid task force on May 10 to advise him on possible new laws, regulations and policies.
“It is a tragedy, it is a crisis, it is an epidemic,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, co-chair of the task force, told the audience of treatment providers, law enforcement officials and others at Farmingdale State College. “Help us find a solution.”
The plan is to draft a legislative package before the June 16 end of the session, Hochul said.
A record 442 people died in Suffolk and Nassau counties from opiate overdoses in 2015, according to county medical examiners’ offices.
Dr. James D’Olimpio, an assistant professor of medicine at Hofstra University and an expert in pain management, urged support for a bill now before the legislature that would require doctors seeking renewal of their licenses to have three hours of education on the risks of pain medications.
“We want to break that cycle of a physician not knowing — because they’re not trained to understand — the risks involved in writing a simple prescription,” D’Olimpio said, referring to how many people become addicted to opioids after first using them for pain relief.
Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, chief medical officer for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, said a spike in prices of some non-opioid alternatives has put them out of reach for many. He said lawmakers should consider capping profits on some medications.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini called for state grants to hire more police officers and prosecutors focused on drug enforcement.
Sini said he is “all for” diversion programs that allow substance abusers to go to treatment instead of jail. But he said current laws wrongly allow people convicted of some felonies into the programs.
“So you have real drug dealers — not just addicts selling to support their habit, but real drug dealers who happen to have addiction issues — taking advantage of this diversion statute,” he said.
Anthony Rizzuto, founder and executive director of Wantagh-based Families in Support of Treatment, said the legislature should fund more opioid prevention and treatment programs. Delays in treatment can lead to deadly overdoses, he said.
“Access to treatment on demand is essential,” Rizzuto said.
Long Island was the fourth of seven stops on the task force’s statewide “listening tour.”