Advocates call for more help to prevent overdose deaths

New York State

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Advocates say the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated drug overdoses in New York, and that more action is needed by the state to prevent deaths. 

“Our whole entire goal is that all patients have immediate access to the drugs that they and their provider decide on. We know that disrupting people with prior authorization, having them have to wait, is both deadly and bogs down providers when they could be serving more people,” said VOCAL-NY Drug Policy Coordinator Jasmine Budnella.

Advocates say the “barrier” of pre-authorization to receive opioid treatment for those enrolled in Medicaid is just one issue. Stephanie Lao with Catholic Charities Project Safe Point, says despite increased demand, harm reduction services are being underfunded.

“As an organization that is out on the streets, working with people who use drugs, we are seeing a tremendous increase in the need, and unfortunately, what we’re facing is a reduction in our capacity to sort of meet that need,” she said.

Treatment providers say the withholding of funding for syringe service programs is particularly troubling.

“In July, ACR Health had to furlough 75% of its employees. This was including syringe exchange programs staff, which is considered an essential service,” said ACR Health Substance Use Syringe Exchange Programs Manager Roberto Gonzalez.

“We fear that soon we will be teaching participants how to bleach and reuse their syringes, a practice that we know is not safe can be ineffective at eliminating the transmission of diseases,” said Pia Marcus with New York Harm Reduction Educators.

Advocates also say that when individuals share syringes, that can lead to HIV and Hepatitis C transmission. 

In a statement New York State Division of the Budget spokesman Freeman Klopott said:

“This is exactly why the Federal government needs to act and deliver resources to states to offset revenue losses due to the pandemic, which for New York State amounts to $62 billion over four years.  Despite the ongoing federal failure to act, the State has made no permanent spending reductions and has paid all prior year obligations for the syringe exchange program in full. As we have said since April, in the absence of Federal aid, the State has no choice but to temporarily withhold portions payments in order to ensure it can fund critical services in the midst of a pandemic, and we hope providers will join us in calling on Washington to act so that the State can continue to support our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

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