Standing at Horizon Health Services Terrace House in Buffalo, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded that his colleagues in Congress back up their rhetoric with action and support passage of desperately needed emergency funding to confront the exploding heroin, opioid and‎ prescription drug epidemic. In just an 11-day period between late January and early February, as many as 23 people in Erie County died of overdoses from a high-powered batch of heroin. Schumer said it is time for Congress to put its money where its mouth is and provide emergency funding for a recently-passed drug prevention bill. Schumer said this critical bill could put a huge dent in the drug epidemic, but Congress still needs to allocate money ‎and not just make empty promises. Schumer said emergency funding will significantly help communities like those in Buffalo and Erie County to prevent future drug overdoses and deaths.
“Erie County had more treatment admissions for prescription painkillers than any other county in New York State in 2014. The opioid and heroin abuse crisis in the Western New York region is a symptom of this national emergency, and we need to fight back now. And that means Congress needs to put its money where its mouth is and support the prevention, treatment and law enforcement steps needs to turn the tide against this scourge,” said Schumer. “All of the rhetoric in the world isn’t going to help expand access to Nalaxone to prevent overdose deaths; and endless Senate speeches and authorization bills won’t mean more beds at treatment centers to curb addiction – only emergency funding and resources to combat this crisis will do that. It’s time for Congress to walk the walk and pass the desperately needed emergency funding that will really make a difference in this fight.”
In the United States, drug overdose deaths have exceeded car crashes as the number one cause of injury death. Two Americans die of drug overdoses every hour, and 2,500 youths aged between 12 and 17 abuse prescription drugs for the first time every day. And in just an 11-day span between late January and early February, 23 people in Erie County died of overdoses from a high-powered batch of heroin. The ages of those deceased ranged between 20 and 61. The average overdose victim in Erie County is 38, but the ages of victims in 2014 ranged from 17 to 83. According to the Buffalo News, just last week, an off-duty Buffalo police officer overdosed on heroin and was revived when he was administered Narcan, an opiate antidote, by an on-duty officer. Schumer said these incidences show the opioid and heroin epidemic is not going away, and addiction does not discriminate between age, demographic, or socio-economic status.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids—a class of drugs that include prescription pain medications and heroin—were involved in 28,648 deaths nationwide in 2014. According to the Buffalo News, opiate-related deaths in Erie County are expected to hit 264, possibly even 300, in 2015, once all of the toxicology tests are completed by the Medical Examiner’s Office. In 2014 alone, there were 128 fatal overdoses. And since the beginning of 2014, more than 350 people have died from drug-related overdoses in Erie County – this includes 2014, 2015 and this early part of 2016 combined.
As a result, Schumer said more must be done to combat this scourge of drug abuse and overdose-related deaths in Erie County and Western New York. Schumer said oftentimes, due to a lack of funding and resources, both victims of drug abuse and law enforcement agencies alike do not get the resources they need. In fact, in 2013, National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2013, only approximately 11 percent of people in the United States that needed substance use disorder treatment actually received it. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that there are approximately 32 providers for every 1,000 individuals needing substance use disorder treatment. Schumer said this further demonstrates the urgent need for Congress to approve emergency federal funds that would provide additional resources for prevention, treatment, emergency first responders and more to stem the opioid epidemic on the ground.
Schumer said the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA), which recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a critical first step in providing these additional resources. However, Schumer said more must be done to supplement this bill, as it authorizes the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, but does not currently appropriate any additional funding to do this. Schumer said this bill could be transformative for communities across the U.S., including those in Erie County, if it had the real funding needed to provide these resources. Schumer explained that the bill currently seeks to:
  • Expand the availability of naloxone – which can counter the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose – to law enforcement agencies and other first responders;
  • Improve prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion “and to help at-risk individuals access services,” because inefficiencies and loopholes in the current programs allow many individuals to game the system and obtain more drugs than they should;
  • Shift resources towards identifying and treating incarcerated people who are suffering from addiction, rather than just punishment as is often the case currently;
  • And prohibit the Department of Education from including questions about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) financial aid form
However, Schumer said without real funding, public health workers and law enforcement officials across NY State will not be able to take these actions. That is why Schumer is urging his colleagues in Congress to approve emergency federal funds, such as those proposed in a bill presented by Senator Shaheen [D-NH], which would provide additional resources for prevention, treatment and emergency first responders. Schumer highlighted this as one of many legislative packages that could help communities and states stem the opioid epidemic on the ground.
Specifically, Senator Shaheen’s legislation – of which Schumer is an original co-sponsor – called the Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, would allocate an additional $600 million to specific programs at the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services for local governments to utilize in this fight, including $200 million to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, $10 million to the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Grant Program and $225 million to the Substance Abuse Preventing and Treatment Block Grant Program.
Schumer also said Senator Manchin [D-WV] has introduced legislation that would fund a grant program for states or non-profits to conduct culturally sensitive consumer education about opioid abuse. Schumer said this is another program that would be helpful on the local level and provide additional funding to stem this scourge of heroin abuse across the U.S. and in places like Western New York.
Schumer was joined by Anne Constantino, President & CEO Horizon Health Services and Avi Isreal, of Save the Michaels of the World, a local family activist group.
“It is nearly impossible to go a day in Western New York without hearing about an overdose by a teenager or young adult, or a family in crisis, due to the substance abuse epidemic that is ravaging our schools, businesses, homes and community,” said Anne Constantino, President and CEO, Horizon Health Services. “It is stunning and heart breaking to see so many lives lost to this deadly addiction as well as families continuing to fight to save their loved ones. Access to treatment must be a priority. We know that treatment works and that people can recover and go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives, and we appreciate Senator Schumer’s continued advocacy.”
“My son’s death was the result of a system that failed him, and my family paid the ultimate price. We have been fighting for awareness and resources ever since then,” said Avi Isreal, whose son, Michael David Isreal took his own life in June of 2011 after battling with addiction to prescription painkillers. “This is one of the worst health crises to afflict this country in decades and something needs to be done. Senator Schumer was one of the first representatives to meet with us after Michael’s death, and he has stood by our side for the last five years. He has been an unwavering advocate for our cause, and we appreciate his continued efforts to combat this growing epidemic.”
Schumer has long fought to support the federal government’s drug policy is to build safe and healthy communities. Schumer has previously fought to provide additional funding to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which helps specific counties – designated as HIDTAs – address upticks in heroin usage and drug-related crime by improving coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Schumer has also urged his colleagues in Congress to Schumer is pass the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would help halt the dramatic increase in opiate and heroin overdoses in border-facing communities by making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers who shuttle drugs over the border into places like Buffalo in Western New York.