The news from Albany of an opioid abuse legislation agreement is being hailed in Western New York by many who are on the front lines in the fight against opioid addiction. If there are any disappointments to local advocates, it's that agreement on the measures within the package didn't happen years ago.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein announced a final agreement Tuesday on a legislative package that includes required pain management education for physicians, a scaling back of opioid prescriptions from 30 days to seven days, an increase in treatment beds and the elimination of prior insurance authorization before an addict can enter inpatient treatment.
Among those welcoming the agreement in Western New York was Jodie Altman, Campus Director of Renaissance Addiction Services/Kids Escaping Drugs, who says the measure lifting the insurance requirement has been sought for a long time.
"I think the fact that you would not need any prior authorization from an insurance company, to be able to access to treatment, removes one of the biggest barriers in the treatment world that we see," Altman said.
Avi Israel says an insurance company's denial of coverage for his son's treatment of an addiction to the opioids he was taking while battling Crohn's Disease resulted about a month later in his son's suicide. Israel, who now heads the Save the Michaels of the World, an anti-addiction advocacy organization named for his late son, also welcomed the insurance measure. He also welcomed the new regulation that cuts the number of days for an opioid prescription down from a month to just a week.
"One of the biggest problems with opioids is obviously we don't know how long it takes for any such person to get addicted," Israel said. "So, if you're not giving them a 30-day supply for a toothache, that is obviously going to be helping."
Last month, the Erie County Health Department confirmed that the number of opioid and heroin overdose deaths in 2015 was more than double the number of the previous year. Earlier this year, nearly two dozen people died in an 11-day span.
Officials anticipate the number of fatal overdoses in 2016 could reach 570. Israel expressed hope, though, that the new measures announced in Albany will slow the pace.
He did lament the timing, though, and wondered what could have been for many people's lives, including that of his son, if some of what was announced Tuesday was passed sooner.
"A lot of components of this agreement were really talked about for the past four years," Israel said. "We passed I-STOP and that was a big, big achievement. But a lot of this stuff was supposed to be part of I-STOP, especially the doctors' education and the access to treatment."