ALBANY, N.Y. – New legislation was signed into law Monday to combat the state’s heroin epidemic.
The new laws provide funds for law enforcement, education and treatment. It also includes funds for treatment programs and promises to reform how insurance companies evaluate addicts.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said the new laws are what they’ve been hoping for.
“This isn’t something we can do on a county level,” he said. “This isn’t something we can do on a local level. We’ve been screaming for help, and I applaud the state for getting involved.”
Apple said his calls for help have been answered.
“We’ve been saying from the get-go we need more education, and we need more availability for treatment,” he said.
The legislation included eleven bills aimed to improve treatment, combat distribution, educate the public, and provide relief to families dealing with heroin addiction.
“We are so lax in treatment it’s not even funny,” Apple said. “Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of parents who have lost kids, whose children have overdosed over the last course of the year, the numbers are astronomically high.”
Apple said one of his own employees was turned down from a treatment facility.
“The treatment facility was like, ‘Well, his insurance doesn’t cover that,’” he explained. “That’s an issue.”
The new laws require people get expedited treatment while their appeals are pending and requires insurers to use state recognized, evidence-based and peer reviewed clinical criteria.
“It should not come down to how wealthy you are or what insurance you have to get treatment,” Apple said. “You need treatment.”
Apple also said heroin use does not equal jail time.
“These people don’t belong in jail,” he said. “Get them the treatment they need.”
Apple said heroin abuse is a problem that’s only getting worse.
“There’s young kids doing this,” he said. “This is in fact a disease that has gotten out of control.”
But Apple is concerned about the state’s ability to follow through.
“To get the laws is one thing,” he said. “To follow through with them and to make it happen is another.”
The sheriff applauded the state for taking action, but he believes people need to continue to pressure their elected leaders to make sure the programs and funding are going to those in need.
“I’m also glad that our constituency out there has pushed the state electives into doing this because that’s how we got here today,” he said.
The new laws also add 100 state troopers to help the state fight heroin as well as make the penalties more severe for those caught trafficking it.