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Better laws needed in heroin fight

Used syringes at a needle exchange clinic.

Used syringes at a needle exchange clinic. Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Lawmakers nationally and locally are swinging into action against skyrocketing deaths from addictions to heroin and painkillers.

Nationally, 28,647 deaths were linked to opiates in 2014, meaning opiate overdoses have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. But what can lawmakers do to combat the problem? A lot. As deadlines for legislative sessions in Washington and Albany approach, pressure for better laws is building.

And so is pressure to stymie better laws, in some cases. Drug manufacturers don’t want to see pill sales curtailed. Physicians don’t want new education requirements or mandated changes in how they prescribe drugs or talk to patients about them. Insurance companies don’t want to pay more for inpatient addiction treatment or replacement drugs that make it easier for addicts to get clean. And defense attorneys don’t want to see harsher penalties for drug dealers. But these are exactly the things that must happen to get this epidemic under control.

In Washington, the House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan set of 18 bills that addressed drug trafficking, increased treatment, and protecting addicted minors and veterans. But those bills must be reconciled with Senate legislation and funded.

In New York, battle lines are being drawn by bills the State Senate has passed and the pleas of families and treatment providers familiar with the problems.

Among the best proposed measures is one that would make it easier to hold overdose victims for treatment. Another big step would be limiting an initial opiate painkiller prescription for acute pain to a five-day supply, keeping unneeded pain medicine out of cabinets and off the streets. More continuing education for doctors and addiction counselors is crucial. Stiffer penalties for serious dealers are a must. And bigger, better anti-heroin education programs in schools must be mandated, because preventing opiate addiction is the most important step.


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