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Activists, Lawmakers Call For $15M To Curb Opioid Abuse

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A statewide coalition met today at the state capitol in Albany to call on New York lawmakers to take decisive action to combat the heroin and prescription drug epidemic through stronger prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts. The heroin epidemic is shaping up to be one of the greatest domestic threats of the young century. Not a day seems to go by when there isn't a headline involving the opioid. And something of a national conversation began when Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire state of the state address to heroin.

Experts regard prescription painkillers as gateways to heroin, and there are no quick solutions. Prescription drug use is off the chart: a jump from 5 million users in 1991 to 45 million today.  John Coppola is the Executive Director of The New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.  "There is no way that you go from 5 million people consuming prescription opiates to 45 million, without some consequences in the community.”

ASAP notes that a bag of heroin, at roughly $5, is far below the cost of a pack of cigarettes, and far cheaper than other types of illegal recreational substances.   Terez McHale of the New York Chapter of Young People in Recovery was introduced to drugs in middle school.   "I started out smoking weed, drinking, and partying on weekends. As time went on I started using harder drugs more often, and I'd been introduced to prescription pain medication by another student at my school. If I had known at that time what was to follow, I never would have taken those first pills."

McHale's young adulthood was hijacked by her addiction, and although she tried several times to get help, the medical system failed her in her darkest hour.  "My father drove me an hour from our home where we sat in an in-patient waiting room from 9am to 5pm as we waited for the health insurance company to call the re-hab back. I remember vomiting outside, sweating profusely... as the hours went by I faded in and out of consciousness, holding onto the hope that help would be available. Only at the end of the day we had waited just to find out I wasn't approved for treatment."

She eventually was forced to go "cold turkey" after being arrested and jailed. A sympathetic public defender helped her get the treatment she needed, and eventually turned her life around, enrolled in community college, graduated and now travels to local schools to share her experience with addiction as a preventative method.

ASAP is calling for about $15 million in new funds for the office of alcoholism and substance abuse services to address the heroin epidemic.  The group cited numbers provided by the Trust for America's Health that show misuse and abuse of prescription drugs costs the U.S. an estimated $53.4 billion a year in medical and criminal justice costs and low productivity.

Across the New York City metro area, heroin-related overdose deaths have increased 84 percent in the last three years. ASAP says addicts desperately need fully-funded comprehensive treatment and recovery programs.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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