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Lt. Gov. Hochul traveling the state for ideas on how to address opioid and heroin crisis

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (right)

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to know what New Yorkers think the state can do to address the heroin and opioid epidemic. Hochul is traveling with a drug task force panel across the state, listening to local experts share their experiences.

“What we’re going through right now in New York is nothing short of a public health crisis,” Hochul said.

Speaking at Syracuse University, Hochul said the drug task force is putting together a plan to present to the governor and the legislature before their session ends in June.

Experts from local opioid treatment programs are calling to end limits on the number of patients a physician can treat with Suboxone, which manages opioid dependence. Also, that nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants be able to prescribe the medication as well. Some say there is a geographic disparity in terms of what treatment is available in a certain area.

Many agreed that prescription opioids are to blame for the heroin crisis. Jeremy Klemanski from Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare said more education on the danger of prescribing opioids should be required for doctors.

“I think the evidence is overwhelming that what we have done to date to educate the prescribing workforce in New York has not been enough to stem this crisis,” Klemanshi said.

There were calls for more warnings to children and the general public about prescription opioids. Hochul said there are fewer restrictions on prescribing opioids then treating the addiction.

"How do we stop people from becoming addicted to the prescription pain killer in the first place?" Hochul asked. "It does come down to dosage. I think its education. Insurance should be covering more alternative treatments."

Nicole Siriano of Central New York Services said she hopes an opioid treatment program will open in Oneida county this fall. She said while there have been some positive changes on the state level, there is still a long way to go.

“We’ve had three documented deaths in four days in the past ten days in Oneida county, one of which was one of my councilor’s sons," Siriano said. "It seems like all the effort that we’ve been putting forth, things are not getting better.” 

Members of the audience also stressed the importance of law enforcement in disrupting the supply of heroin. This week, the state attorney general’s office, working with state and local police, announced the results of a drug bust that recovered more than 10,000 bags of heroin heading for Syracuse from New York City after an 11-month investigation.

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.