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State legislation makes important strides in dealing with New York’s opioid crisis

The new limit on the amount of opiates that a physician can prescribe at once won’t be a panacea for the opiate and heroin scourge ravaging New Yorkers, but it could make a difference.

Lawmakers had to act. The number of emergency calls for overdoses continues to surge. Emergency medical technicians rush to administer doses of lifesaving Narcan, but they cannot get to every call in time.

The State Legislature’s bill would limit some patients to an initial seven-day supply of painkillers, which is less than the current 30-day period. State Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, noted exceptions for acute situations, including those suffering from cancer or chronic illness. People who fall under either category will still get their 30-day prescription.

Meanwhile, patients would be able to try for an additional seven-day prescription from their physician when they reached the end of their initial supply. There have been cases in which the patient is not the addict. A family member may realize that an older relative, such as a grandparent, has a prescription and break into the medicine cabinet. Once the expensive opioids run out, or the unscrupulous doctor writing a voluminous amount of prescriptions is arrested by law enforcement, many addicts turn to a cheaper alternative: heroin.

It is a scenario that is playing out all over the country. Erie County officials have pointed to the scourge as ultimately affecting population numbers.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s heroin task force recommendations included the limit, citing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Republicans wanted to take it a step further with a shorter five-day supply.

The measure, part of a package of other hopeful steps, includes expanded treatment options. It mandates insurance companies provide up to 30 days of coverage for opioid prescriptions if necessary and that they provide coverage for care relating to addiction treatment and recovery without prior approval. Insurers also must cover medications prescribed to treat substance abuse. And there is an educational component. Prescribers must complete three hours of educational coursework on addiction treatment and pain management every three years.

These are among several actions taken by lawmakers. Still there are notable and disappointing absences: the measure fails to strengthen enforcement against drug dealers and cross-state doctor shopping, and lacks language that would require pharmacies to take back opiates patients do not use. Republicans’ desire to place additional penalties on drug dealers, especially if someone died of an overdose, seemed well-intentioned.

As reported in The News, further than the “additional $200 million included in this year’s state budget to combat heroin and opioid addiction,” the agreement also includes “funding for 270 treatment beds and 2,335 opioid treatment program slots.”

The new limit, along with the additional measures, cannot comprise the entire solution. Lawmakers will have to go back at this issue next session. But these steps are both worthwhile and welcome.