Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city of New York have announced a new plan to invest $38 million toward the ambitious goal of reducing heroin and opioid overdose deaths by 35% over five years, per the NYTimes. These funds will use to bolster efforts in a number of critical areas: expanded access to methadone and buprenorphine (suboxone), distribution of naloxone (narcan) to all 23,000 NYC patrol officers, a focus at city hospitals on dealing with addiction and overdose, and aggressive prosecution of drug distributors. The largest portion of the funds – $10.3 million – will go to distributing naloxone to officers. This underscores the well-established crisis magnitude of the opioid epidemic, in that extensive public funds are now needed simply to save the lives of users.
While these measures are encouraging in that they support use of public resources to vigorously combat overdose deaths, it is important that such efforts be part of a larger dialogue about the need for upstream resources. Education must be provided to children in schools about the dangers of opiates, and to prescribers who write prescriptions for opioids. Additionally, addicts and problem users who are in less acute stages of addiction must be referred to interventions earlier in the addiction cycle when they come into contact with the system. In our experience, long-term treatment relationships and meaningful alliance with professionals is an impactful way to help those struggling with opiate use.