Heroin epidemic

Democratic lawmakers in New York state are imploring President Joe Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare states of emergency regarding opioid overdose deaths.

ALBANY (TNS) — More than two dozen Democratic state senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week calling for them to declare a state of emergency in the U.S. and New York to fight the skyrocketing overdose epidemic.

The letter was issued one week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing an estimated 93,000 people died of a drug overdose last year in the U.S. — nearly 30% more than in 2019 and the highest total recorded to date. In New York, data show overdose deaths grew by 34% to an estimated 5,132.

”It is clear that the federal government and the state of New York need to marshal every public health resource possible to stop the frightening increase in overdose deaths that are occurring every day in our cities and villages,” the letter stated. “Federal and state officials have to act with utmost urgency and work together to save the lives of our friends and neighbors here in New York and around the country.”

The lawmakers noted that the deaths, which amount to roughly 250 a day, took more American lives than the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

They also noted it’s four times as many lives as were lost to gun violence last year — a crisis which both Cuomo and Biden have marshaled resources for in recent weeks. On July 6, Cuomo declared a state of emergency over escalating gun violence and committed over $135 million to communities around the state to combat the crisis.

Biden, meanwhile, convened top law enforcement and government officials at the nation’s capital last week to address the rise in gun crimes.

”Where is our collective moral outrage regarding the latest overdose statistics and the lack of insistence that the overdose crisis be met with a massive response?” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Sadly, it is as if these lost lives simply do not matter, and the specter of future lives lost matters even less.”

The Cuomo administration has faced repeated calls over the years from advocacy groups and substance use providers to address the overdose crisis at a scale commensurate with the epidemic. Providers have complained of paltry funding and reimbursements that fuel high turnover among their workforce, burdensome regulations that prevent easy access to treatment, and a lack of detox and treatment beds that often sends people out of state.

The administration has faced additional heat in recent months and years over a broken pledge to open overdose prevention centers — sometimes called safe injection sites — where individuals could use illicit drugs under medical supervision to prevent overdose and be connected to safe use supplies, detox and addiction treatment services. Such centers have been shown to increase treatment access while reducing deaths and transmission of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

In the letter, lawmakers called for an “all-out effort” to combat the overdose crisis by expanding access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services, including supportive housing, as well as medication treatment upon demand, and fully staffed emergency rooms, correctional settings and crisis intervention centers.

”When it comes to the overdose crisis, we are truly in a state of emergency,” the letter states. “It’s now time to officially declare it so and begin to provide all the resources possible to save lives.”

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