Law enforcement, treatment providers and others at a forum on Wednesday called for increased funding for heroin treatment-related services and the simple recognition that heroin use has reached problem status everywhere.
That money must go to prevention education efforts, as well as treatment of heroin addicts, including treatment of the long-term effects of heroin abuse, they said at the event at Hudson Valley Community College.
Some speakers also called for uniform guidelines for insurance companies to make it easier to get those addicted into inpatient facilities before it’s too late.
The state Senate-sponsored forum was designed to look for solutions for the ongoing heroin and opioid problem.
“A lot of people have turned their heads to this,” Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said, after noting his department’s interaction with heroin addicts has markedly increased. “I truly believe it is a public health epidemic. I certainly don’t think it’s a law-enforcement issue alone.”
State Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, a member of the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, hosted the local forum, one of a series held around the state. The mission of the task force is to report to the Senate by June 1 ideas for legislation to address the problem, said Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Suffolk County, task force chairman.
“We’re focusing on prevention, treatment and law enforcement and any other ideas you can think of,” Boyle told those gathered.
Hudson Valley educators called for heroin prevention education for children, and Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan called for tougher penalties for dealers.
In Saratoga County, the number of people coming in for opiate addiction doubled in 2013 from the previous year, according to Peter Lacy, acting director of the Saratoga County Mental Health Center. The trend, he said, is also toward younger patients and female patients.
Lacy also noted that the fight against heroin addiction is a long-term one for patients. Treatment programs must be able to mirror that, he said
“Because opiate addiction is so insidious and enduring, treatment programs need to match up with the addiction pound for pound. Treatment programs need to have adequate resources. They need to be more intensive and to be able to treat the opiate habit for longer periods of time.”
Katherine Alonge-Coons, Rensselaer County mental health commissioner, reported similar increases in those seeking heroin addiction treatment in her county.
She noted that heroin is more challenging to treat than other drugs because it brings with it complex physical addiction issues.
Alonge-Coons said that her county has an effective alcohol underage drinking program. She believes the same structure can be used for targeted heroin prevention efforts.
She also discussed treatments, including Vivitrol. Vivitrol, she said, is expensive but can be used to help prevent relapses because it blocks the heroin high for a month.
“The high cost of the drug itself is more than offset by the medical costs which active addicts would have otherwise incurred,” Alonge-Coons said.
Lisa Wickens, an Albany-based registered nurse and mother, told the story of her fight with insurance companies to get her son treatment for heroin addiction.
Her son is OK now, but she said she ran into repeated problems trying to get him into inpatient treatment when outpatient treatment wasn’t working. Her son overdosed multiple times.
She said there should be a standard of practice that all health insurers must go by in responding to addiction.
“That standard of practice is really, really important,” Wickens said.