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White House Advisor: Drug Abuse Deaths Increasing

Lucas Willard

The same day that musician Prince’s death was attributed to an overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli visited Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to advocate for policies that he says will address addiction by increasing access to treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone, improve prescribing practices, and support law enforcement and prevention strategies.

Botticelli, known as the nation’s Drug Czar, said Congress must act to provide new resources to move the nation from “crisis to recovery.” He said preliminary data released this week shows that the overall death rate has risen for the first time in 10 years, which can mainly be attributed to opioid deaths.

“In 2014, we lost 129 people every day on average to drug overdoses. In the first half of 2015, this data suggests that we lost 140 people per day,” said Botticelli.

In a press conference before a public forum on addiction, Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko said President Obama’s $1.1 billion plan is a necessity to support states in the fight against addiction.

“I don’t want to hear that we’re not going to provide the resources. Because then we’re providing false hope. And we’re not being honest with ourselves. And we’re being disingenuous with society’s needs. This is an illness that requires resources to combat that illness,” said Tonko.

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a former Congresswoman and staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, gave perspective on the plan by recalling a $1.6 billion plan to fight crack cocaine addiction in 1986. She said any efforts by the Republican-led House to stall President Obama’s efforts are “not acceptable.”

“The American people need to know that there are solutions that if they’re funded they will make a difference. And I personally hope that I stop going to funerals of friends of mine who have lost their children in my community,” said Hochul.

Botticelli recognized New York’s own efforts to combat the opioid crisis, including expanding access to naloxone through pharmacies and training law enforcement, establishing Good Samaritan laws to encourage people to dial 9-1-1 in an overdose case, strengthening the state’s prescription drug monitoring programs, and supporting needle exchanges.

New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez said a Governor Cuomo-appointed task force plans to submit legislation to continue fighting opioid addiction before the close of the session.

“But while we have some really game-changing initiatives we cannot do this alone. We need federal government support and partnership, but we also need to support our federal partners in our efforts to obtain federal funding,” said González-Sánchez.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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