New York State Must Take Action to Reduce Opioid Overuse Deaths

New York cannot incarcerate its way out of the opioid crisis.

Legislation currently being proposed in New York State—S2161/A833A—would change that, requiring prisons and jails across the state to provide MAT to people who are incarcerated. MAT, specifically methadone and buprenorphine, is the gold standard of care and can save countless lives. If enacted S2161/A833A and three other bills that are pending now—S5935/A7246A, S4808/A2904, and S4643A/A972A—would collectively help New Yorkers on Medicaid or private insurance to access the treatment they need. The bills would also make important strides in treating the opioid epidemic as the public health crisis it is.

More than two thirds of Americans believe that the government should provide more treatment to people who use drugs, including opioids, and shouldn't default to incarcerating people. Nevertheless, New York State continues to arrest and incarcerate people for opioid use and behavior related to opioid use disorders. A study published in JAMA in 2018 found that among people with a prescription opioid use disorder, one in five had recently been arrested, was on probation, or on parole. Among people who used heroin, the numbers were twice as high—40 percent had recent criminal justice involvement. By contrast, only three percent of people who did not use opioids had recent criminal justice involvement. New York cannot incarcerate its way out of the opioid crisis.

New York’s opioid crisis is devastating communities across the state. Every day, nine New Yorkers die of an opioid overdose. Since 2010, more than 20,000 people in New York State have lost their lives as a result of an overdose. Collectively, S5935/A7246A, S4808/A2904, S4643A/A972A, and S2161/A833A would help people to access the critical care they need to avoid criminal justice involvement in the first place, stop the cycle of incarceration if people have been in jail or prison, save lives, and help people not only to survive but to thrive. New York cannot afford to wait.