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Another Voice: Change in formulation would fight painkiller abuse

By John Coppola

Science is teaching us that addiction is a disease of the brain that is chronic and tough to address. Sadly, not only is there no magic answer, but the public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid addiction and overdose is getting exponentially worse across the country and, especially, in Erie County.

However, science is also developing new tools to help us prevent and address opioid addiction.

Consider this: In Erie County, there have already been more than 157 opioid-related deaths so far this year, with some 2016 estimates surpassing 300. In fact, in 2013, there were more opioid-related emergency department admissions in Erie County than in almost any corner of the state.

Across New York State, opioid-related deaths increased 30 percent from 2009 to 2013, and opioid-related emergency department visits increased 73 percent from 2010 to 2014. In 2014, there were 119,000 admissions to certified substance abuse treatment programs for opioid abuse.

Opioids are prescription painkillers and can be incredibly useful for patients with chronic pain. These medications are prescribed to about 100 million Americans annually. This volume of prescriptions is particularly troublesome because of the likelihood of misuse.

In light of the opioid abuse epidemic, the New York State Legislature, in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, passed a bill providing patient access to FDA-approved abuse-deterrent properties (ADP) technology. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse, chaired by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, recommended access to and use of ADP in its final report. This abuse-fighting tool is supported by law enforcement, patient advocates, medical professionals and substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery service providers.

Abuse-deterrent properties is a technology that makes it difficult to crush pills in order to snort them, or liquefy them in order to inject the medication. This is particularly important because altering the pill prevents the extended release of the medication over time and provides the abuser with a rush of the entire medication all at once.

This new tool also has a positive economic benefit by reducing emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

The use of abuse-deterrent properties in prescription opioids is critical, particularly here in Erie County where we have seen a recent rise in drug abuse.

The governor has built an admirable record fighting opioid abuse. He can build upon this record by signing this bill into law, saving hundreds of lives right here in Erie County.

John Coppola is the executive director of the Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State.

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