Should heroin addicts be forced into treatment?

Posted at 7:58 AM, Sep 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-12 07:58:20-04

The opiate/heroin addiction problem continues to get worse. According to Horizon Health Services, there has been a 480 percent increase in opiate overdoses locally this year. However, the percentage of deaths is down thanks to increased use of naloxone, more commonly known as narcan.

With first responders seeing increased need for narcan, NYS Senator Robert Ortt (R) from Tonawanda is crafting legislation that would require mandatory rehab treatment for addicts saved by narcan. Ortt sits on the state's heroin task force and says he is hearing from several communities that EMS crews are treating the same person multiple times for an overdose.

"I don't think just enabling people's drug habits is the way to go. You want to end it and really save lives, change behavior and get people treatment," said Senator Ortt.

But there are obstacles because Erie County does not have enough resources to treat all those with opiate addictions, explained Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein.

Burstein is also doubtful that addicts forced into treatment will be changed. "We might spend all these resources on getting them into care, and if they don't feel they have a problem, they are not going to buy into it and it will really be a waste of resources," added Burstein.

Commissioner Burstein said she believes changing the medical mentality will be more effective so that physicians are not relying so heavily on powerful pain pills that can cause addiction and lead to heroin problems.

Horizon Health Services tells 7 Eyewitness News another problem is laws that prevent nurses from treating addicts with medicines that reduce their cravings.

Paige Prentice, vice-president of operations, said she supports the mandatory treatment idea as long as there are more efforts by New York State to increase resources to help medical providers treat opiate addiction.

Senator Ortt says he is aware of the resource problem and hopes the mandatory treatment legislation will be introduced in 2016 as part of a comprehensive package dealing with the heroin problem.

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