A heroin and opioid pandemic has enveloped the country, reaching into small towns and not sparing New York City. In 2015, 937 city residents died from a heroin overdose, a 17.1% rise over the previous year. Of all overdose deaths in the city that year, 59% involved heroin.
But countermeasures passed by the state last year are now taking effect. More than a dozen new insurance reforms took hold Jan. 1. One requires insurers to pay for rehabilitation; another establishes a seven-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain—a reduction from 30 days—in an effort to keep addictions from starting. Experts call prevention crucial because breaking heroin addiction is difficult and usually requires multiple stints in rehab.
Seventy-five percent of recent U.S. heroin addicts were introduced to opioids through prescriptions, according to a survey in JAMA Psychiatry. Overprescription of painkillers has made more people vulnerable to becoming hooked on opioids, prompting some to turn to heroin, which can be easier to obtain and less expensive. According to a study published in the Irish Medical Journal, 91% of opioid addicts who went to treatment later suffered relapses. One factor could be that rehab often doesn't begin early enough.
"Insurers and providers need to work to provide immediate treatment, because right now people still need to wait days and weeks," said Stephanie Campbell, director of policy at Friends of Recovery-New York, an Albany-based organization supporting recovery from addiction. "The emergency room will say, 'We're not going to detox unless users are in active withdrawal.' We're forcing people who are already desperate to become even more desperate."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing that the state do even more to expand treatment. In his State of the State proposals last week, Cuomo called for eliminating the need for prior insurance authorization for heroin rehabilitation, establishing 24/7 crisis treatment centers and creating high schools for students in recovery.
"One hundred forty-four people [in the U.S.] are going to die today from overdosing," Campbell said. "You've got to have more resources."
"With the heroin crisis deepening, state's new prevention effort kicks in" originally appeared in Crain's New York Business.