A coalition of advocates called End Overdose New York is urging immediate action, as the State Senate’s Joint Task Force on Opioids, Addiction & Overdose Prevention meets in Buffalo Wednesday.
Jawanza James Williams is director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, a statewide group that organizes low-income people affected by socioeconomic issues like HIV/AIDS, the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
"We want things like medication-assisted treatment. We want universal access to methadone and buprenorphine," said Williams. "That's for people on Medicaid, people in rural areas, people in cities, people in jails, because everybody deserves dignity and respect and access to the kinds of medications that are going to help them stabilize their lives.”
Williams is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would expand access to medication-assisted treatment for people on Medicaid with substance abuse disorder. The bill has passed both the State Assembly and Senate, but has not yet been signed into law.
The task force is in Buffalo, holding its sixth public meeting. Its mission is to carry out a holistic review of the state’s overdose crisis.
"Enough of talk. Let's do some action now," said VOCAL-NY Buffalo chapter leader James Hill, who helped lead chants outside the Catholic Health Associate Regional Training Center, where the task force's meeting was held.
"We had enough talking. We can't wait until the next person dies. You know, what are we gonna do, wait until the next person die and the next person die and keep saying the same thing all over again? No. It's not happening. Let's do this today."
Task Force Co-chair Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Peekskill) said he welcomes the advocacy around ending overdose deaths.
"They have been following us all over the state, which is terrific," said Harckham. “A lot of the energy is fueled by the activists and we need to have a holistic public health approach to this crisis, because even though maybe we've sort of leveled off, we still have far too many overdoses, and many of them are preventable and we need to take action.”
Harckham said the task force will hold one more public meeting in Albany in December and that it plans to propose new legislation in January.