Assembly candidate Billy Jones announced that after months of traveling throughout the 115th Assembly District he has developed a series of reforms to address the devastating heroin and opiate epidemic. He noted that after speaking with thousands of voters he continually heard the same heartbreaking story: virtually everyone has been impacted by the epidemic as it ravages the North Country.
“These moving conversations with residents who have lost children, parents, friends or coworkers to fatal drug overdoses highlight a tragedy that has become all too common,” said Jones. “We, as New Yorkers, must do better.”
This past legislative session, Governor Cuomo signed a series of measures that serve as a solid first step in combating this pressing issue. Yet in speaking with those who deal with this epidemic on a daily basis – including first responders, law enforcement officers, treatment specialists, prescribers and elected leaders – it is clear Albany can go further in combating this crisis, noted Jones.
Below are a series of reforms Jones is proposing:
Prevent overdoses from becoming fatal: Jones agrees with the legislation proposed by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (A.10492) that, “requires members of the state police, city police departments and sheriffs, undersheriffs, and deputy sheriffs to be trained in the administration of opioid antagonists and to carry opioid antagonists in their vehicles.” Further, Jones believes a greater focus should be put on efforts to increase the number of persons trained in administering Narcan – a drug that serves to counteract the effects of an opiate overdose.
Increase the availability of treatment for addiction: The legislation passed this year requires 14 days of uninterrupted care for those who seek treatment for their addiction. Insurers are forced to cover these two weeks of care prior to utilization review. Jones believes this window needs to be extended. He stressed that health experts should decide how much care is needed, not large insurance companies that are only worried about their bottom line. He also noted that it’s in all of our interests that addiction is properly and thoroughly treated and that fear of prohibitive costs for comprehensive care should not be a deciding factor in whether or not a person pursues treatment.
There is also increasing evidence that providing those struggling with addiction with access to Vivitrol – a non-narcotic opioid blocker – can serve to reduce cravings during a period of recovery and decrease the likelihood of relapse. Jones urged that further consideration be given to this option as we gain more data on the effectiveness of the drug.
“More broadly, it’s essential to expand access to treatment options,” said Jones. “When someone is willing to embrace recovery, we must be able to provide the resources they need, as soon as possible. Waiting days for a bed at a treatment facility while living in a drug-plagued environment makes the prospect of success more difficult. The ambulatory detox center coming to Schuyler Falls is an example of how we can work to expand treatment availability.”
Working to prevent addiction and abuse in the first place:
Prescribers: This year’s legislation mandates that physicians complete three hours of training every three years on addiction, pain management and palliative care. While this is a good first step, Jones noted that we must work to eliminate incentives for physicians to prescribe painkillers when other treatment options are available. He highlighted that CDC director Tom Friedan wrote in regard to opioid prescription, “We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently.”
Education: This year’s legislation takes an important step in increasing funding for education programs designed to prevent drug use in the first place. The sophistication of Drug Abuse Restriction Education (DARE) is increasing, and modern-day programs have allowed communities to enjoy a $28.00 return for every $1.00 spent on program delivery. These are investments that New York State must continue to make, Jones emphasized.
It’s also important that these efforts focus on the specific drug abuse at hand – heroin and other opioids. Research shows that while broad-based campaigns are effective, it’s more effective for prevention efforts to focus on a specific drug or class of drugs, noted Jones. Jones also stated that the results of a study conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found, “To a considerable degree, prevention must occur drug by drug, because people will not necessarily generalize the adverse consequences of one drug to the use of others. Many beliefs and attitudes held by young people are drug specific.”
Law Enforcement: The solution to our heroin overdose epidemic is not the failed strategy of locking-up illegal drug offenders; however, it’s critical that we provide our law enforcement officers with the tools they need to take drugs off the streets, stressed Jones. He also noted the importance of approaches that recognize the distinction between big drug dealers looking to profit on the addiction of others, and those suffering from addiction who deal small quantities only to continue feeding their own addiction.
“Billy Jones has the clear understanding that arrest and incarceration will only kick the can down the road and proactive programs will save lives and money while creating better communities,” said Clinton County Sheriff David Favro, who responded enthusiastically to this platform.
Billy Jones’ multi-pronged approach is also supported by members of the medical community.
“I support Mr. Jones’ ideas to address the ongoing heroin and opiate epidemic in our community,” said Dr. Kent Hall, chief medical officer at the UVM Health Network -CVPH. “Education and treatment are the keys. We will not be able to incarcerate our way out of this.”
Rebecca Jabaut, house manager for the Mary DeVeau Women’s Sober Living House in Plattsburgh, was encouraged by Mr. Jones’ platform, saying, “I support these proposals and believe that addiction is a disease that can be managed – one day at a time – by treatment for those willing to embrace it. Incarceration does not treat addiction – in fact, as the house manager for a women’s sober living house, I can report that people seeking sobriety have made me aware that there are plenty of drugs available in jail and it compounds the temptation for those truly trying to get well. I also support the use of Narcan by police, etc., as I have been witness to the miracles of people in recovery who were saved by it, which positively affected not only them, but also innocent children who would have otherwise become orphans.”
The nightmare of drug addiction is a reality for too many New York families. Marne Pike from Plattsburgh shared her personal loss, as well as her support for Mr. Jones’ comprehensive platform.
“Watching my brother struggle with his addiction for years, and ultimately losing him to the heroin and opioid epidemic has made it clear that this issue is complex, touches all walks of life, and is going to require a lot more than love and prayers to solve,” said Pike. “Billy Jones’ platform makes it clear that he grasps the complexity of this issue, and the complexity its solution necessitates.”