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‘Anecdotally, it’s getting worse,’ governor says of heroin epidemic

The heroin epidemic keeps getting worse, despite the millions of dollars spent on additional treatment beds, public awareness campaigns and Narcan training, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

“Anecdotally, it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Cuomo said during an editorial board meeting at The Buffalo News. “We talk about it all the time; what else to do.”

“It’s very, very difficult,” Cuomo said. “We’re doing everything we can. I would not claim success at all at this point. I’m pleased that we’re doing everything we can. I think it’s the right fight. But I don’t know if we’re making a lot of headway, unfortunately.”

The governor’s remarks came just two days after Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein and federal authorities issued an “emergency warning,” urging drug addicts to discard any packet of heroin they recently purchased but had not used. Twenty-three people died as a result of opiate overdoses in Erie County during an 11-day period that started Jan. 29.

Cuomo said the 25-year-old child of a friend of his recently died of a heroin overdose.

“It’s not heroin like the old heroin stereotype – urban poor,” Cuomo said. “This is a middle-class, suburban drug as much as it is an urban drug. And it’s like fire through dry grass right now.”

Cuomo signed a law in 2014 to address the heroin and opioid crisis, trying to make sure people with substance abuse problems get the care they need and to provide services and support for families and communities affected by addiction.

Last week the state launched a web-based service that shows how many beds are available for substance abuse disorders at hundreds of treatment centers.

The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services’ Bed Availability Dashboard application collects bed availability from state-certified alcohol and substance use treatment providers daily and makes it available in real-time on the agency’s website.

Last month, the state Health Department announced an agreement with CVS that allows its 479 pharmacies across the state to sell naloxone, also known as Narcan, to their customers without a prescription. The medication reverses opioid overdoses. Cuomo has made Narcan one of his priorities in the fight to end opioid abuse.

“We’re doing beds. We’re doing prevention. We are doing Narcan,” the governor said. “We are doing citizen training on Narcan.”