June 22, 2016

Video, Photos & Transcript: Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Combat the Heroin and Opioid Crisis in Buffalo

TOP Video, Photos & Transcript: Governor Cuomo...

Comprehensive Legislative Package Limits Opioid Prescriptions from 30 to 7 Days, Requires Mandatory Prescriber Education on Pain Management to Stem the Tide of Addiction, Eliminates Burdensome Insurance Barriers to Treatment

Expands Supports for New Yorkers in Recovery, Increases Treatment Beds by 270 and Adds 2,335 Program Slots for Substance Use Disorder in New York


Earlier today, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to combat the heroin and opioid crisis in New York State while in Western New York. The comprehensive package of bills was passed as part of the 2016 Legislative Session and marks a major step forward in the fight to increase access to treatment, expand community prevention strategies, and limit the over-prescription of opioids in New York. More information is available here.

Buffalo was the first stop of the Governor’s statewide tour to sign the sweeping legislation today. He will also host events on Long Island and Staten Island. Video, photos and transcripts of these events will follow.

VIDEO of the Governor’s remarks and signing the legislation is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page shortly.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is below.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you all very much. Well, it’s my pleasure to be back in Buffalo once again. Sometime I feel like I never leave but it’s a pleasure to be back. And you know, first, before we begin the subject of the day, we’ve been talking about the renaissance of Western New York and we tend to talk about big high profile projects that are making a lot of progress. And we do have big high profile projects that are making a lot of progress. But the success is a really a shared success and that’s what we often forget. It’s not just a few high profile projects and jobs at the top of the spectrum. You really feel that this renaissance is striking every community everywhere. I remember walking through this community. I don’t want to say how many years ago but Tony Masiello was mayor. And it was a totally, totally different community. And if we had said to anyone, “The Lower West Side is going to go through a resurgence and you’re not going to recognize it in just a relative handful of years,” they would have said it wasn’t going to happen. But it is happening and this is a different community than it was. Congratulations to Evergreen, congratulations to a lot of community organizations that have worked very hard but once again it is evidence that what the Mayor is doing, what the County Executive is doing, what the community of Western New York has really pulled together to accomplish, is happening. This is a different place than it was just a few years ago. And I say congratulations to Buffalo, to Erie, to Niagara Falls, because you really have done a 180 degree turn and let’s give the Mayor and the County Executive and everyone involved a round of applause.

I want to thank my legislative colleagues. We finished the legislative session. The legislative session starts in January, and it goes through June. It feels like an eternity when you’re in Albany, trust me, but it’s only January through June. And it was actually a highly productive legislative session. We got things done that were national firsts and that we’re very proud of. We passed the best paid family leave program in the United States of America, which is going to change the way people live. We passed the highest minimum wage phased in over time to $15 an hour so people have a decent lifestyle at every income level. We have more funding for education than we’ve ever funded before – $25 billion for education because that’s our priority. We’re the first state that will test every school’s water to make sure it is lead free. First state in the nation. And we passed a piece of legislation that we’re going to be talking about in the next few days that will end the scourge of these so-called “zombie properties.” These are properties that caught up in the mortgage meltdown in 2007. They bounced back and forth in ownership between the original owner and the bank. Nobody really takes responsibility for the property, the property degrades, and degrades the entire community around it. It’s been going on for years. It has to end. It’s going to end now and our new housing foreclosure law is going to do that, so that’s great progress.

And in the midst of it all, we actually cut taxes. Now if you want to make money – I think this is legal – I was Attorney General, I should know -- wager anyone you know and say “Did New York State raise taxes or lower taxes?” Everybody’s going to say, “Raise taxes” because it is inconceivable that a government actually lowers taxes. New York State has lowered taxes for everyone in the state and every income level in the state. And for the middle class, up to $300,000 in income— which is a very broad middle class – up to $300,000 in income, lowest tax rate in 70 years, believe it or not. So it’s a way to make money, and it’s good news for the state.

And what we’re talking about today, which is the nation’s best policy, I believe, and best program, in dealing with what is a national scourge. This is not just a New York problem. It’s not just an Erie problem. It is a national problem. But once again, New York stepped up to the plate. I believe it’s New York’s legacy to lead and to take on the tough challenges and to show other states what can be done. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here with heroin. It is a national program. We’ve already gotten calls from other states seeking to replicate what we’re doing here in New York. So I want to congratulate the legislators. They’ve been recognized, but I’m going to ask them to stand once again so we can give them a round of applause. Senator Ranzenhofer, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Senator Ortt, Assemblyman John Ceretto, Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, Assemblyman Joe Giglio – stand up. Let’s give them a round of applause and thank them for a job well done.

You know the facts on heroin. It isn’t just the pain of what people are going through today. What is most frightening is the exponential increase in the numbers, which is really staggering. Ten years ago we had about six deaths in Eerie County, now we have about a hundred every year. Over the past ten years we’ve lost ten thousand people to heroin overdoses and the numbers are increasing exponentially. It is spiking. It is becoming more and more available, especially among the younger community, it’s becoming more and more accepted, and it is truly, truly a frightening and staggering increase. We’re losing as many people to heroin and opioid overdoses as we lost to the AIDS epidemic at its peak. That’s how bad this is. Think about that: The AIDS epidemic – one of the worst things that society has had to deal with, and the loss of life is just about the same with this heroin epidemic. So the numbers are staggering, and it’s frightening, and it’s getting worse.

That is why this task force that we put together and put together quickly was so important. I want to thank all the members of the task force who really did great, great work and smart work in a short period of time. The Lieutenant Governor, let’s give her a round of applause, who headed it up. Now the heroin situation was really a nightmare for so many families because it was confounding. It was hard to get people help. Everywhere you turned you ran into an obstacle. Probably one of the biggest nightmares that a parent can go through is to have a child that is in trouble and a child that is struggling and you can’t get to the child, you can’t get a way to help your child and wherever you go you’re told “No,” and wherever you go you’re told, “Well you don’t understand the rules and regulations. This is what you have to do and this is what you have to fill out. As a parent, you don’t have the right to do this for your child.”

I’ve been involved with too many families where this was just a heartbreaking, heartbreaking situation. I’ve been involved with too many families where the outcome was the worst imaginable outcome. I believe that probably the most unnatural pain in life is the loss of a child. Parents are painful, brothers and sisters are painful but there’s an order to life and there’s an expectation. To lose a child is unnatural. Parents don’t bury children. That’s not what happens. And for the parents who have gone through that, we have the deepest sympathy. We have parents here today who suffered that most grave loss, and some of them have been extraordinary and they’ve taken the pain and they’ve put it to a positive place. And rather than just get angry and get bitter, they’ve taken that lesson and that pain and they’ve turned it into an energy that has caused them to drive a movement so that other parents don’t feel that pain. They deserve the greatest respect and our appreciation for truly heroic action. Avi and Julie Israel are here today, and they represent all the parents across the state who have felt that pain and brought it to a higher place. So we thank them. The legislation basically does four main issues. It attacks the four largest obstacles to treating this problem.

First, it takes on the insurance companies. I understand the insurance companies are businesses. Insurance companies are not charities. Insurance companies are in business to make money. They are businesses. I did a lot of battle with the insurance companies when I was Attorney General and their point is basically right. “We’re not there to give out care and give out healthcare aimlessly or easily. We want to restrict it and do what we have to do. But we’re in the business to make a profit.” The insurance regulations were part of the nightmare in getting treatment for someone with a heroin problem, because there is no time to delay. And when you have a person who is overdosing, who is sick, who needs treatment, who could possibly kill themselves at any given hour, and you run into an insurance company that says, “Well I have to give you prior approval before we’re willing to pay for a treatment program and fill out this form and fill out this form and fill out this form, and we’re not sure that you’re person actually qualifies, and we don’t know that they need treatment, and we’ll let you know in 3 days and we want to have a meeting and we want to have a consultation” – that can be a matter of life and death, those few days.

You can have a person who is just out of control in life, and who the parents can’t control and the neighbors can’t control and the family can’t control, and to be told by an insurance company that “We’re not sure it’s necessary,” when you are at your wits end, can literally be the difference between life and death. What this legislation says to insurance companies is, you don’t have a right to stop a medical decision that says treatment is necessary.

We are going to have a state protocol that is established, a doctor will make the determination as to that protocol, if a doctor determines that that person needs treatment, that person is going to get treatment, and that insurance company is going to pay for that treatment, period.

Second, even if a parent brings a child over 18, there is no legal right to hold that child longer than 48 hours. Forty-eight hours is a relatively short period of time and 48 hours, the person who overdosed or who is under the influence might not be of a clear head yet to make decisions. But at the end of 48 hours that person would be released as a matter of law. We understand the balance with civil liberties – you don’t want to hold a person against their will – but a parent who is trying to help a child and who can’t control that child – 48 hours often isn’t enough. We’re going to take the 48 hours, we’re going to increase it to 72 hours which we think is a fair balance, respects the civil rights of that child, but also can get them the help they need. Seventy-two hours is a period where the doctors say the person will sober up to an extent that they can make rational decisions. The legislation is going to make that change from 48 to 72 hours, which can make a very big difference.

Third, you have heard the stories. Assemblyman Ryan was exactly right and Lieutenant Governor was exactly right. Doctors are prescribing these painkillers with a frequency that is disturbing. My 20-year-old went in to have her tonsils removed. She comes back with a 30-day supply of opioids. If you had taken a 30 day supply of opioids you could very well have a problem at the end of 30 days just because you followed the prescription of the doctor. You don’t need 30 days of opioids when you have your tonsils removed. There’s been an increasing and increasing frequency of the number of prescriptions and the length of prescriptions. I’ve done cases in the past as Attorney General, the connections between the drug companies and doctors; I believe drug companies often incentivize doctors to prescribe certain medications, but it has gone too far. We’ve said you can’t do prescription for more than seven days, period. If you have to refill it, refill it, but no one is going home with 30 days of opioids that can get them hooked or that they can sell.

And fourth, the treatment. Many, many people are going to need treatment. When a person is ready to go into treatment, that is a precious moment. When the person stops denying and the person stops fighting and the person says, “Okay, I will go for treatment.” You have a window of opportunity when the person says that because forced treatment doesn’t really work. You can’t force a person to go for drug treatment. They have to believe that they need it, but when they are at that window, when they believe they need it, you have to be able to strike fast and get them to treatment at that moment.

We have had a shortage of treatment beds. So, you have people who are ready to go in and say, “Okay mom. Okay dad, I’ll go.” You call up and you can’t get them a bed and the treatment provider says, “Call back in 14 days, maybe we’ll have something.” You don’t have 14 days. We need more treatment capacity. This increases about 2,500 slots statewide to have the treatment capacity to actually help the people who need it and that’s going to be coming online immediately.

So we have the right program. We learned from all across the country. The task force spoke to communities all across the state. I’m confident that it’s a smart program and it’s the right program and it’s a program that fulfills government’s obligation. You know, the greatest test for government for me, is how it responds to a crisis, right? Government is a lot of things. Nobody ever accuses it of being especially fast and collegial. So, for government to do what government did here, which is be confronted with a real crisis and a complicated crisis. For the Senate and the Assembly to come together and work together as a team, not that you don’t do that every day, and to come up with a substantive program in just a matter of weeks, get it funded and get it passed was really a great piece of government work and that’s what government is supposed to do. When there is a problem that you can’t handle yourself, it’s supposed to be fast and efficient and practical and put the politics aside. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, I don’t care what you are, come together and get the job done for the people of this state and that’s exactly what this government has done and I applaud them.

Now, the rest is up to us. We have the government program, we have the tools, but this is a societal crisis and this is going to take us all to address it. It’s going to take parents, it’s going to take neighbors, it’s going to take teachers, it’s going to take law enforcement, it’s going to take the District Attorneys, It’s going to take the police officers, the Sherriff, all of us coming together as a community to help young people who are in trouble and struggling. Sometimes you wonder how people survive youth. It is such a vulnerable time. You are at that point in life where you know all the answers to all the questions, or you think you know all the answers to all the questions, but you can actually get yourself in a lot of trouble. It is a test for each and every people in this all today. If we pull together and we act together, we can save lives with this program and there is no better accomplishment in life than that. Thank you and God bless you.

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Contact the Governor's Press Office