For several years, the desire of politicians to address the growing opioid epidemic seemed to transcend politics. The worsening spiral of lives destroyed had everyone in Albany working together for more prevention, treatment and enforcement. But this year, that cooperation and progress ended, even as the problem worsens.
The state budget completed in April includes a much-touted $214 million for addiction treatment, anti-overdose medication, family support and other services, but only about half that money is new. And badly needed new legislation was not passed. That’s largely because Senate Republicans reverted to tradition, writing bills mostly to crack down on dealers. For the past two years, they had gone along with the Assembly Democrats and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to increase treatment and prevention, and to force insurance companies to do more for addicts, while also toughening law enforcement. In return, Cuomo and the Assembly agreed to go after dealers.
So what needed to get done and didn’t? Three recovery high schools, one on Long Island, were not established. The payment of kickbacks to doctors or “counselors” who refer patients to treatment centers was not outlawed. Insurance companies will not have to pay for outpatient addiction services for which they have not given prior authorization. And sober homes will not face proper oversight.
With this year’s failure, the alliance in the legislature isn’t the only one fraying. Grass-roots activists and recovery advocates, who largely sang the praises of state politicians for years, are changing their tune. Meeting the continuing challenges of the opioid epidemic must also happen in the years that lawmakers are not up for re-election.