With the battle against heroin addiction ramping up nationwide, Governor Andrew Cuomo last week proclaimed that independent pharmacies across New York may provide the antidote without a prescription.
Improved access to naloxone is one of the priorities at the center of Cuomo’s fight to end opioid abuse in New York. When administered by injection or nasal spray, the drug also known as Narcan temporarily blocks the effects of opioids. Cuomo's directive came the day after the Albany County Executive's State of the County Address, in which Dan McCoy called on the State Department of Health to begin providing Narcan over the counter.
On the federal level, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer is leading the push for emergency funding for upstate New York, saying Congress "must get serious" about fighting the opioid and heroin epidemic.
Schumer says the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, which recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a critical first step in the battle. The bill authorizes the attorney general to award grants to address the epidemic, but does not currently appropriate any additional funding. "When you're losing the fight you can't be satisfied with the status quo, you gotta do a lot more. And we need not just language, but dollars. The language expands the ability to fight the plague. But we have a shortage, a desperate shortage of dollars in this fight."
Schumer cited New York state statistics showing more than 3,300 opiate-related deaths throughout upstate from 2004-2013.
· In the Capital Region, there were 341 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 10 in 2004 to 51 in 2013.
· In Central New York, there were 401 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 2 in 2004 to 76 in 2013.
· In Western New York, there were 574 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 16 in 2004 to 105 in 2013.
· In the Rochester-Finger Lakes, there were 475 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 9 in 2004 to 61 in 2013.
· In the Southern Tier, there were 218 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 2 in 2004 to 36 in 2013.
· In the Hudson Valley, there were 1,135 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 16 in 2004 to 173 in 2013.
· In the North Country, there were 172 deaths over that 10-year period (2004-2013), and the number of deaths increased from 3 in 2004 to 26 in 2013.
County Executive McCoy: "I commend Senator Schumer for requesting more funds, not just for education, but to offset people for treatment. Because that's the most important thing. It's when people get hooked on these opiates, that we need to have a treatment facility to get 'em to programs and to work with the families and their loved ones. It's the education. we really need to get it back out there, I think it was in the 80's when we had the crack epidemic going on here. This is the same thing with the heroin. We're right back with a different drug."
Assemblyman John McDonald, a pharmacist, explains how naloxone will be distributed. "An individual would come in and say 'I'd like to buy a naloxone kit,' we would take down the essential information we need to do to track it. We provide the training, and just bring the individual over to the register and ring 'em up for whatever the charge may be. What is smart on the governor's part here, and the County Executive here in Albany, is that, from a health-care professional's standpoint outside the emergency room, pharmacists are probably the most accessible health care professionals, and therefore, items that people can get on their schedule are a lot easier to come by. And we have the background. We know how opiates and heroin works, we actually know how naloxone works. That's what the bulk of our training is all about, so we're perfectly situated to provide that training and support."
McDonald's pharmacy in Cohoes is among several statewide to offer the over-the-counter heroin antidote. The Health Department already has approved hundreds of Walgreens and CVS pharmacies as registered opioid overdose prevention programs, enabling their pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Health officials told the Associated Press that independent pharmacies wanting to participate should email firstname.lastname@example.org
New York's junior Senator has joined the fray: Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing legislation that could help rein in heroin use at an earlier stage. Her measure would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidelines for the safe prescribing of opioids for the treatment of acute pain.
Senator Schumer has also urged his colleagues in Congress to pass the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would help halt the dramatic increase in opiate and heroin overdoses in border-facing communities by making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers who shuttle drugs over the border into places like Buffalo in Western New York.