A local congressman is among those co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill which would make it easier for doctors and other medical professionals to prescribe medication to treat opioid and heroin addiction.
Brian Higgins (D-NY 26) is one of four representatives sponsoring the House version of what is called the TREAT Act. It would allow more doctors, as well as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid and heroin addicts.
"Last year this epidemic took the lives of 116 people right here in Erie County," Higgins said at the Kids Escaping Drugs campus in West Seneca on Monday. "Yet often families and even healthcare providers are left with too few options to effectively help those suffering with this affliction."
So far this year, 34 people in Erie County have died in cases linked to opioid or heroin overdoses.
Higgins and other bill supporters point to the statistic that while more than 800,000 doctors can prescribe controlled substances - including the ones to which patients become addicted - only about 30,000 doctors can prescribe the medication that can treat the addiction.
"Because of a law that was written 15 years ago, before the opiate epidemic was in full force, NPs and PAs are not yet allowed to prescribe this potentially life-saving medication," said Christene Amabile, a nurse practitioner at Horizon Health Services who spoke in support of the TREAT Act.
Joining Congressman Higgins and health professionals at a Monday morning news conference were relatives of some who have battled addiction. Some shared their stories of their loved ones' recoveries, thanks in great part to access to treatment. Others, including Avi Israel, shared stories with more tragic endings. Israel's son, Michael, died following a battle with drug addiction.
Avi Israel said it's time society stops looking at addicts as people who need to be jailed, recognizing instead that addiction is a disease which needs treatment.
"My son was prescribed into addiction," Israel said. "He didn't go looking for it. He didn't go buying it on the street. He wasn't standing on a street corner. He didn't go down to the East Side, or West Side, or North Side or whatever. It was given to him by three doctors which at the same time had no clue what addiction is.
"It's time to get over that hurdle that addiction is self-made."
A similar bill is being co-sponsored in the Senate, one also with bipartisan support that includes some prominent names including Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.