As I-STOP Takes Effect, Senator Kennedy Presses for Answers on State’s Preparedness for Prescription Drug Abuse

 
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Epidemic of prescription drug abuse has given rise to statewide need to re-tool addiction treatment services. 

Kennedy urges state officials to ensure WNY gets its fair share of resources for addiction treatment and prevention. 

Kennedy: With prescription drug abuse at epidemic levels in WNY, state must re-tool the approach to fighting addiction before more lives are lost.

ALBANY, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, pressed officials from the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) for answers on the state’s preparedness for rising levels of prescription drug addiction. The first phase of I-STOP, a new state law designed to combat prescription drug abuse, has now gone into effect – shifting hydrocodone from Schedule III to be a Schedule II controlled substance. As controls on the most highly-addictive painkillers get tighter, Kennedy is urging the state to re-tool addiction treatment and prevention services before more lives are lost.

At a public hearing today in Albany, Senator Kennedy questioned OASAS Executive Deputy Commissioner Sean Byrne about what actions the agency is taking to meet the mounting challenges of opiate painkiller addiction and its consequences. Kennedy also pushed for details on next steps OASAS plans to take to fix the dramatic disparity of addiction treatment services experienced in Western New York.

“When the crack cocaine epidemic took hold of communities across New York in the 1980’s and 90’s, state officials had to gear up and re-tool for new efforts to combat crack addiction and its consequences. Now the state must respond to a new epidemic with the rise of prescription drug abuse,” Kennedy said. “When we approved I-STOP last year, our state took an important step toward enacting better controls on highly-addictive substances. With painkiller addiction destroying lives and taking its toll on families, more must now be done to ensure all families have access to high-quality, effective treatment services regardless of where they live.

“Unfortunately, current local needs for residential treatment has not been met. According to OASAS figures, the percentage of need met for residential services stands at just 16 percent in Western New York but 111 percent in the downstate region. This means that for every ten residential beds needed in Western New York – only two are available,” Kennedy added. “Western New York families deserve a fair share of state resources for the treatment services their loved ones need.”

While they didn’t give many specifics, OASAS said they are in a constant process of "renovating" and "refurbishing" their programs, services and funding allocations. In other words, they indicated they would work to be prepared for rising levels of new opiate addictions.

OASAS also claimed statewide and local needs for services are being met. However, Senator Kennedy pointed out that the waiting lists at local providers tell a far different story. Many local families have also detailed their struggles in gaining access to necessary services for loved ones who have fallen addicted.

At the urging of Senator Kennedy, the WNY Delegation and the strong local network of families and treatment providers, OASAS recently began the process of opening up 25 new beds in Western New York. It’s an important and substantial step forward, but treatment providers and families say more is needed.

Residential treatment providers note that the OASAS deficit funding they receive is not enough to provide treatment services for their residents. If they were able to receive additional deficit funding, they would be able to take on more of the individuals on their long waiting lists.

“When residential beds are not available, families are often forced to place their loved-ones in an inpatient setting. This is like sending someone to the ER for a cold,” Kennedy said. “It is more expensive for taxpayers, and it is often not the appropriate setting – especially for young adults suffering from opiate addiction.”  

In recent years, the age of individuals falling addicted has shifted. Over 40 percent of those who need treatment in Western New York are under the age of 25, and 65 percent of these individuals are addicted to opiate drugs. These young adults need a treatment program that fits their unique needs.

This week, the first phase of I-STOP – which Senator Kennedy co-sponsored – went into effect. This first phase makes hydrocodone a Schedule II controlled substance – moving it up from Schedule III. Hydrocodone is one of the most highly abused and diverted conrolled substances in New York State.

Placing hydrocodone on Schedule II will prevent drug diversion and theft by suspending automatic refills and limiting the amount of hydrocodone prescribed or dispensed to a maximum 30-day supply. However, to protect access for patients who need pain-management medications, I-STOP does not alter a practitioner’s ability under existing regulations to prescribe up to a 90-day supply if the patient suffers from one of several conditions, including chronic pain. 

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Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the towns of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov