U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, is continuing to look for innovative and productive ways to combat the opioid epidemic.
The congressman spent a week in his district visiting hospitals and treatment centers before hosting a panel discussion on the issue in Glasco last week, where he said he heard a number of ideas he plans to take back with him to Washington.
“One of the things I was flagged is we talk a lot about treatment and decriminalizing addiction, but not enough emphasis is put on prevention and how we can get in front of the problem,” Delgado said during a phone call with reporters Wednesday. “Whether it’s more educational tools, funding prevention centers, we should be not just reactive but more proactive in our approach.”
Panelists and audience members also raised proposals such as drug take-back laws, instituted in other states for people to return their expired medication to local pharmacies. Delgado added hearing from families and friends of those suffering from addiction was impactful.
“It’s not just about those we are trying to save from addiction, but helping those who are trying to love those individuals and be there for them and get them help,” Delgado said. “That is a tough dynamic.”
The opioid crisis has long been an important issue for Delgado, who is a member of the congressional Freshmen Working Group on Addiction. In the years 2017 and 2018, Columbia and Greene counties, combined, saw 50 deaths, 155 emergency room visits and 23 hospitalizations due to opioid overdoses, according to the New York State Department of Health. As a whole, New York had more than 1,700 deaths caused by opioid overdoses in 2018. The congressman’s first major step toward combatting the crisis came in May, when he introduced bipartisan legislation, along with representatives Elise Stefanik, R-21, and Paul Tonko, D-20, and others that would make it easier for physicians to prescribe addiction treatment drugs.
In the call, Delgado said investing more in drug courts, decriminalizing addiction and continuing legal action against Big Pharma companies that encouraged over-prescription of the highly addictive drugs are more measures that would stymie the epidemic.
But Delgado also cautioned against making opioid drugs too limited.
“As we go through this process… it should not mean that those who in fact are struggling with chronic pain, who are in fact coming home from serving abroad on behalf of our country should be shut out from these substances, particularly when we know that they are needed,” Delgado said. “We have to strike the right balance here.”
Columbia Memorial Health spokesman William Van Slyke agreed that keeping access to opioid drugs open for those who need it while ensuring patients don’t slip into addiction is important.
“We’re grateful to the congressman for his interest and energy to help us address this issue,” Van Slyke said. “While we wouldn’t comment on proposed legislation, we’re hopeful that any action by policy makers will be very cautious and deliberate to ensure the any action moves us in the right direction.”
“We work very closely with our partners in the addictionology program and other addiction-related services to really balance those interests and what is being presented medically by the patient,” Van Slyke said.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at email@example.com, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.