As the State Legislature session heads to its conclusion this week the issue that has persisted at the top of the agenda and now is a priority for action is the epidemic of heroin and opioid painkillers. This crisis has quickly spread across the country. Just a year ago, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin used his entire State of the State address to discuss it. The number of deaths from heroin and opioid abuse has skyrocketed into an epidemic that some have compared to the start of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. And, as I have noted before, the death rate for middle aged whites with only a high school education has risen causing the entire death rate in the country to increase for the first time in many years it was recently reported. All of these facts are signs of terrible physical pain but also anxiety and even social and economic disruption.
Government leaders are searching for answers. Have drug companies been pushing opioids? Have doctors been overprescribing them? Have patients been demanding them? The answer to all three questions is yes. Some have suggested that state efforts to carefully control and monitor narcotic prescriptions a few years ago with the I STOP legislation led to more people looking to get cheap heroin which drug dealers are happy to supply.
Today, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders announced an agreement on legislation that would increase access to insurance coverage and expand treatment options and make them more widely available to those who are addicted. More details will be revealed in the bill itself which will be voted on later this week before the session ends.
In the midst of tragedies like the terrorism in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and now Orlando, here is a homegrown tragedy right in our communities that government and the medical community and all of us in community organizations and churches should do something about. Government action on this issue is a most basic responsibility.