OPINION: Feds and state must use every weapon in fighting opioid addiction
A new measure signed into law last week will expand funding for fighting the state’s deadly opioid epidemic by focusing on opioid users caught up in the criminal justice system.
This hits close to home. A chart prepared in May by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx lead the way in opioid overdose deaths.
That’s bad enough until you consider the human toll. The addicts walk through hell on the way to a miserable death. Along the way, their parents and families also become victims as they watch the tragedy unfold. Eventually the addict has no other choice but to engage in criminal acts including stealing from their families, burglary and sex work to support their habits.
If the governor’s plan works, those who get arrested and are ordered by a judge to participate in “diversion” programs will be the lucky ones. Money and property confiscated from drug dealers will be used to fund the diversion programs for opioid abusers.
“We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation’s opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need,” Cuomo said. “By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul added, “This legislation will support treatment services and help to reduce incarceration. Forfeiture funding will now be able to be used for substance abuse programs, mental health services and housing assistance. These actions will increase public safety across the state and help New Yorkers recover and turn their lives around.”
There is another side of the opioid epidemic that the new legislation does not address. Recently, CBS 60 Minutes aired a report showing how “the opioid crisis was allowed to spread — aided by Congress, lobbyists and a drug distribution industry that shipped, almost unchecked, hundreds of millions of pills to rogue pharmacies and pain clinics providing the rocket fuel for a crisis that, over the last two decades, has claimed 200,000 lives.”
In that report, whistleblower and former DEA deputy assistant administrator Joe Rannazzisi said the legitimate pharmaceutical industry “allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.”
Cuomo’s expanded funding designed to help opioid users break their addictions is an important step in the right direction. At the same, the DEA must come down like a hammer on “legitimate” businesses that profit from this misery.
Jack Ryan is a former newspaper reporter and editor and a former public information officer for New York City.
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