Albany lawmakers reach deal on ‘heroin package’ of bills to curb addiction - The Buffalo News
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Albany lawmakers reach deal on ‘heroin package’ of bills to curb addiction

ALBANY – Negotiators at the Capitol have reached a deal to try to prevent and treat a rising number of heroin and prescription opioid drug addictions and overdoses, though some advocates, including Western New York parents who lost children to drug problems, said earlier that the package of bills does not go far enough.

The deal, contained in 11 different bills, calls for:

• Expanding coverage by insurers of people with addictions and for patients who see health care providers specializing in substance abuse services and two new demonstration programs, including creation of up to six programs, including one in Western New York, to send addicts to non-hospital settings to cut down on what the state says is over utilization of expensive hospital-based emergency room and inpatient detoxification services. Another will address relapse problems for addicts by providing a range of services, from treatment to transportation to job information, for patients for a nine-month period.

• Launching new public awareness campaigns, using social media and mass media outlets, by two state agencies, as well as new “age appropriate’’ drug addiction prevention curriculum developed by the state Education Department to be provided to junior and senior high school students;

• Allowing parents of a minor with drug addiction to get an assessment of the problem under Persons in Need of Supervision services, opening the door for access to variety of help programs;

• Strengthening of penalties – making it a Class C felony – for criminal sale of controlled substances by health care providers and pharmacists and allowing law enforcement to obtain eavesdropping warrants to investigate such cases, and also giving direct access to state narcotics enforcement bureau investigators at the Department of Health to criminal histories of people they are investigating for possible illegal diversion of prescription drugs.

Not included in the final deal is the measure sought by a number of advocates: mandatory continuing education in drug addiction awareness for doctors.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that the heroin package, its shorthand description at the Capitol, is a priority of his administration and lawmakers in the final few days of the 2014 session.

Several parents who lost children to drug addictions have been camped out at the Capitol for the past couple of days pushing a measure to require all doctors to get three hours of specialized training as part of their professional development requirements in pain management and drug addiction issues and how to evaluate a patient before prescribing a potentially addictive painkiller or other drug.

The group, which includes Buffalo residents Avi Israel and Patricia McDonald and Niagara Falls resident Cheryl Placek, came away angry and frustrated after meeting with one veteran lawmaker, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, who has raised concerns about the doctor training component.

Israel, whose son, Michael, killed himself in 2011 while addicted to prescription painkillers, said Glick told him and the other parents that patients need to take greater responsibility for the drugs they are prescribed by doctors and that they should notify physicians if they do not want to take drugs that could be addictive.

Holding photographs of their dead children, the three parents said they were outraged by Glick’s comments. “Do we expect an 18-year-old to make a decision on what medication to take? She’s passing blame onto kids who didn’t go to medical school. Patients didn’t go to medical school and we assume doctors have our best interests in mind,” said Israel, who was among the parents who helped push a measure two years ago bolstering regulation of the dispensing of prescription drugs in New York. Now they say the next step – better education of doctors – is needed to help that first law succeed.

Glick appeared surprised the group was angry with her. “People hear what they want to hear. I said there has to be a balance,” she said.

The doctor training issue has caused splits in the Assembly among Democrats, and proponents privately say an intraparty squabble, more so than organized opposition from outside groups, is helping to stall it.

One Democrat said physicians and patients both need the bill. “It’s important we legislate doctors’ continuing education to address a clear public health issue and that is the overprescription of highly addictive pain medication,” Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, said of the bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. The Senate has already passed the bill.

The heroin-related package of bills being negotiated was among hundreds lawmakers are trying to get through in the session’s final days. Other high-profile measures include how to amend the state’s teacher evaluation system in light of delays on student performance assessments under New York’s Common Core system. The issue is complex because districts have different calculations for scoring teacher evaluations.

The sides say they are also closing in on a bill to permit the dispensing of marijuana for certain diseases and health conditions. Cuomo has said he is opposed to letting the drug be dispensed if it has to be smoked – there are oil-based and vapor-type systems – though he has also called for the decriminalization of marijuana possession that critics say would lead to more people smoking the drug.

Stalled is a bid by some health groups to ban the smoking of electronic cigarettes in public places. Nearly 60 bills received final legislative approval Tuesday, many of them pertinent to just one local community in places scattered around the state.

Bills with a more statewide impact given final legislative passage Tuesday included setting new safety rules for “moveable’’ soccer goals, creating the state-recognized title of “professional geologist,” and asking – though not mandating – that the state Education Department develop a program to teach high schools students how to perform CPR.


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