In 2015, Broome County experienced over 100 deaths as a result of opioids, including heroin and prescription pain relievers, according to the New York State Department of Health. Now, a bill known as the “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act” may help combat the crisis.
The bill, which received bipartisan support and was signed into law on Oct. 24, invests more money into research and will help raise public consciousness of the dangers of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The money stands to benefit Broome County and other communities struggling with the rise of opioid addiction.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, who represents New York’s 22nd congressional district, voted for the bill in Congress. In a press release, Tenney said it is her mission to find a solution to the growing opioid epidemic that has heavily impacted her district, which includes Binghamton and other portions of Broome County.
“Over the past two years, we have worked to secure over $6 billion to combat the opioid epidemic,” Tenney said. “I will continue to work closely with the Trump administration to ensure ending the opioid scourge is a top priority.”
The bill has also seen support on a local level. State Senator Fred Akshar wrote in an email that he is glad to see the federal government taking a bipartisan stance on the issue.
“I’m encouraged that the federal government is stepping up and taking a bipartisan approach to address this epidemic, as we have been doing at the state level in New York,” Akshar wrote.
According to Akshar, provisions similar to those in the federal bill have already been passed in New York state. The measures include efforts to expand access to treatment, ensure individuals who leave treatment have the tools needed to remain clean and outlaw patient brokering, where people receive kickbacks for treatment referrals.
“There’s still more work to do, and it will take time before we see the results of these many provisions, but over the past few years, we’ve seen real, bipartisan progress at both the state and federal levels,” Akshar wrote. “Addiction knows no political persuasion, no race, gender or class. It affects us all, and we must continue to put our differences aside and work together at every level of government if we’re going to be successful.”
The issue of addiction treatment recently arose in Broome County when a state funding package established an addiction treatment center at the Broome Developmental Center in Binghamton. Jason Shaw, a Broome County legislator, was an outspoken advocate for the center and stated in an email that he supports increased funding to tackle the opioid epidemic, but is skeptical of whether the bill will really make a difference.
“Of course, I’m in favor of working to combat the opioid crisis by advancing treatment and recovery initiatives, improving prevention, protecting communities and bolstering efforts to combat illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl,” Shaw wrote. “I guess I’m just so skeptical of the federal government that I’m waiting to see how it goes.”
Alexis Pleus, the founder of Truth Pharm, a local organization that focuses on reducing the number of people who develop substance use disorders, wrote in an email that the expansion of medication-assisted treatment availability and the increase in funding for research is critical to ending the epidemic. Nevertheless, Pleus has reservations on the bill, which she said doesn’t effectively prepare for the next drug overdose epidemic.
“[The bill] lifts restrictions on Medicaid payments for certain types of inpatient programs for five years, so that will, in theory, only benefit the opioid epidemic,” Pleus wrote. “What happens when the next drug overdose epidemic comes along? Will we have to wait until hundreds of thousands of people die again before such a measure is reimplemented?”
Pleus also noted the bill lacks initiatives to decrease criminalization and incarceration, which she said would help enact change.
“There is very little in the bill in terms of harm reduction practices,” Pleus wrote. “We need more funding, more education and more harm reduction measures nationwide to not only end this epidemic, but also prevent the next epidemic from ever occurring.”