© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Katko pushes legislation to allow practitioners to treat more drug abuse patients

Tom Magnarelli
Steve Webster (left), parent of an overdose victim and Rep. John Katko (center) attend a public meeting on heroin addiction in Oswego.


Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) is cosponsoring a bill called the TREAT Act in Congress that would increase the number of patients that medical practitioners can prescribe medication for treatment of drug abuse from 30 to 100. Katko held a public meeting in Oswego to address the recent rise in heroin addictions in central New York.


In 2013, 23-year-old Lauren Webster died of a heroin overdose. Lauren's father, Steve Webster, said she struggled with the addiction, but was clean for a year before she ran into an old friend who became a trigger for her to start using again.


“Heroin addiction and overdose can happen to anyone," Steve Webster said. "It's not just a sketchy looking kid hanging out after school smoking a cigarette. It's athletes, it's honor roll students, it's kids in the band. It's absolutely any wonderful kid out there can become an addict. It is also very clear that once addicted, you can never beat it. You can only hope to keep it in remission, but you can never beat it.”


Katko hosted a panel of medical and law enforcement experts who deal with heroin cases. Monika Taylor, director of substance abuse and behavioral health services for Crouse Hospital said Crouse has the only methadone clinic in central New York. They're treating 600 patients from as many as 20 counties and have 550 people on their waiting list.


“The speed at which people add their name to the list, we can't admit people fast enough,” Taylor said.


Katko said that is why he is pushing for legislation to change federal regulations. Medical practitioners at Crouse Chemical Dependency are limited by the number of patients they can prescribe medication to, that treats opioid addiction.


“We shouldn't ever have to say in this county of aplenty that we can't treat you, we have to wait several months to help with a severe addiction," Katko said. "That's just not the way it should be. A lot of those people never make it to chemical dependency and a lot of them never make it because they end up overdosing and that shows the breadth of the epidemic here in central New York,” Katko said.


In 2014 there were 5 deaths from heroin use in Oswego County and 31 deaths in Onondaga County, up from just a few deaths in central New York in 2010.


Katko said he is also open to more restrictions on doctors who are prescribing powerful opiates such as hydrocodone to patients. That along with the low cost of buying heroin on the street are considered contributing factors to the drug's recent rise in use of the drug. 


“In the old days, people thought that heroin was endemic to inner city neighborhoods and that's where it stayed," Katko said. "This epidemic is anywhere but inner city neighborhoods. Wealthy suburban school districts, rural school districts are seeing record numbers of kids who are using and abusing heroin and some people are succumbing to it and dying.”


The typical patient at Crouse Hospital's Chemical Dependency Treatment Services, is between 26 and 35 years old, is white and female. Forty-one pregnant women were admitted to the treatment program this year.  


Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) also supports the TREAT Act.


Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.