North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik says series of bills she supports would combat entrenched opiate epidemic
Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 9:04 am

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik says the bills rolled out on Wednesday would help in the battle against the opiate epidemic by allocating more funding to hire specialists at veterans treatment courts, end a ban on Medicaid reimbursement for drug treatment for incarcerated addicts and crack down on “doctor shopping” for pain medications.

In St. Lawrence County opioid and heroin overdoses resulted in the deaths of at least 14 people.

The package also includes a bill that would require practitioners applying for DEA licenses to prescribe controlled substances to certify they will only prescribe in keeping with current best practice guidelines.

Stefanik was among the lawmakers who held a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to announce the measures.

“Like my colleagues here today, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects that the heroin and opioid epidemic has had in my district,” said Stefanik in a statement. “This crisis is devastating families across our communities.”

Heroin-related deaths have quadrupled in the past 15 years, the lawmaker said.

In the North Country, the scourge has taxed emergency rooms, law enforcement agencies and families grappling with the epidemic.

“I would like to say it’s getting better but it’s not,” Essex County Sheriff’s Office Major David Reynolds told The Sun last week. “There’s too much demand.”

Locally, there have been 72 confirmed accidental overdose cases in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties since 2010, according to the New York State Police.

But that data reflects incidences as of mid-2016, and the numbers have likely escalated since then.

President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency last October.

Doing so paved the way for the federal government to redirect resources and allocate more grant funds to address many of the items included in the legislative package.

The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days.

But the president stopped short of declaring the issue a national emergency, a measure that would have accelerated the disbursement of federal funds to address the mounting crisis.

Stefanik agrees with the president’s designation.

The lawmaker “welcomes any new efforts and resources to help our community combat this problem," a spokesman told The Sun.

"She also has consistently voted in support of additional funding in Congress to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic, including supporting the Appropriations Bill signed into law last May that contained a $650 million increase in funding to address the prevention and treatment of opioid and heroin use,” said Tom Flanagin, the spokesman.

Stefanik praised the constellation of coalitions across the North Country that have formed to address the issue, including Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery of Clinton County, the St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center in Saranac Lake and the Essex County Heroin and Opioid Prevention Coalition (ECHO).

Essex County Health Director Linda Beers, an ECHO co-chair, reviewed the list of bills and was pleased, noting Stefanik attended the group's public rollout in 2016.

Beers was particularly heartened at the prospects of allowing Medicaid reimbursement for treatment services at jails.

“I think that’s fabulous,” Beers told The Sun on Wednesday.

St. Joseph’s runs a counseling program at the Essex County Public Safety Building in Lewis.

“I honestly think they’re a model for the state,” she said.

Beers sits on the board of New York State Association of County Health Officials, which will meet Thursday in Albany.

“I will bring this list to them and show them what Elise Stefanik is doing,” Beers said. “I’m pleased, I’m really pleased. They’re fabulous initiatives.”

The package of bills joins efforts by state lawmakers to address the issue, including a bill introduced by state Assemblyman Billy Jones on Wednesday to give businesses tax breaks for hiring people in recovery.