State senators on Tuesday easily passed a package of opioid legislation aimed at fighting a drug epidemic that lawmakers say has touched communities across New York.
Lawmakers in the Legislature's upper chamber passed more than 15 bills on a range of issues tied to opioid issues, including measures that would require drug addiction training and expand access to a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.
"The devastating impact of the opioid epidemic does not discriminate against urban, suburban or rural communities. All of New York state has suffered because of the crisis," said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday.
One bill, if passed by the state Assembly and signed by the governor, would require that clinical social workers, psychologists and licensed mental health counselors undergo training or course work on how best to prevent or address drug addiction.
Another measure would mandate that state prisoners with opioid disorders, upon their release, receive medication known for undoing the effects of an opioid overdose. A third bill would allow patients, who have concerns about their prescriptions in their homes, to request it to be only partially filled.
State Sen. Jen Metzger said in a statement that counties she represents, including Ulster County, have faced "staggering opioid-related death rates." The Democrat said there's no doubt the legislative package will save lives.
A legislative task force report released Tuesday outlined recommendations on preventing drug abuse.
The report called for increased funding toward prevention efforts and said service providers described a "workforce crisis" in the community behavioral health field.
Salaries have barely increased in recent years and staff members can find better paying positions without the stress of the work, leading to significant turnover. But high turnover decreases the chances of a participant's success, according to the report.
The report's release comes a day after human service interests urged legislators to funnel more money to nonprofits in the field.
Dozens of groups are pushing for an annual 3% funding increase over the next five years for nonprofits.
State funding in human service aid to local governments dropped 26% from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2018, according to a March report from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.
State Sen. Pete Harckham, a Democrat who represents a swath of the Hudson Valley and was a chair on the task force, said they found first responders in upstate New York who refused to carry naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, restoring breathing and bringing someone back to consciousness.
Social stigma still surrounds drug addiction, he said, something that puts up barriers to discussions about prevention and hampers government's willingness to invent.
"When we see people on a subway platform or on a sidewalk or in the correctional facility, and you hear people somehow say that they failed society, that's absolutely wrong. Society has failed them," he said.