New York’s addiction treatment centers are forced to take additional budget cuts during the pandemic.
There will be a planned 31% reduction in drug addiction treatment programs in the state of New York, which is “unwise” and could have a “potentially calamitous effect,” according to two Democratic state lawmakers, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Sen. Peter Harckham, chair the Assembly and Senate Alcoholism and Drug Abuse committees. The cuts are a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, which calls for decreases in funding to support the economic crisis. Hit hard by the pandemic, New York has lost significant revenue and it is not clear when the next stimulus package will be approved by the Trump administration.
Considering the virus has increased the overdose rate nationwide, lawmakers on substance abuse committees are concerned with the decision. Increased isolation via stay-at-home orders, and the stress of an economic downturn as well as the unforeseen closure of some hospital-based programs for combating opioid use have all raised the overdose fatality rate in recent months.
“In lean times, people often say ‘we must cut the fat,’” Rosenthal said. “The problem is, drug and alcohol treatment providers have been subsisting on starvation budgets for years, and there is simply no fat left to cut. A 31% cut for addiction treatment providers at a time when overdose deaths are increasing will mean more people will die from preventable overdoses as community-based treatment providers are forced to close their doors. People will die.”
“It is certain that substantial decreases in funding to valuable, community-based treatment programs will add a great deal of woe to residents who need more help, not less, during this medical emergency,” Harckham said. “With our most vulnerable neighbors and loved ones especially at risk right now, we simply need to face these challenges together. Effective treatment options should receive the proper support they require.”
“We are living through extraordinary times,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz explained. “We are fighting battles no one would have expected, but still we push forward with hope and unrelenting resolve to succeed. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made the opioid epidemic even worse for those fighting for their sobriety.”
The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) updated its outpatient treatment programs amid COVID-19 to focus on telehealth availability. OASAS and the city’s Department of Health have instituted a methadone delivery program for those testing positive for COVID-19. However, with the recent announcement of program cuts, it’s unclear whether these new initiatives will even continue.
Cited as one of the biggest problems leading to overdose deaths is that addicts are isolated and alone due to the onset of stay at home orders and social distancing mandates.
“They’re alone and we’re finding people too late,” said Cheryll Moore, director of the Erie County Department of Health Opioid Program. “Way too late. It is long after they’ve passed on.”
“Isolation is a trigger and those in recovery seem to have a higher risk of relapse,” agreed Christine Schuyler, the Chautauqua County Public Health Director, addressing the uptick in fatalities.