Bill to Encourage Medication Assisted Treatment Like Methadone and Buprenorphine for Drug Court Participants Passes the New York State Senate

Press Release June 9, 2015
Media Contact

Kassandra Frederique (646) 209-0374</div>
Matt Curtis 646-234-9062</div>

Albany —  Yesterday, the New York State Senate passed legislation supporting the use of medication assisted treatment in drug courts. The bill — S.4239-B (Murphy) /A.6255-B (Rosenthal) — passed the Assembly with overwhelming support last month. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Democrat Linda Rosenthal in the Assembly and Republican Terrence Murphy in the Assembly, supports the use medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence in judicial diversion programs (drug courts) by affirming that they may recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to participants with an opioid dependency. It also ends the widespread practice of drug courts requiring participants to quit such treatments or use the fact that a participant is on MAT as grounds for kicking him or her out of a program.

"Judges have no business playing doctor," said Grisel Moya, a member of the activist organization VOCAL New York. "Last year a young Nassau County man named Robert Lepolszki died from a heroin overdose after his drug court judge ordered him to stop methadone treatment. This bill will finally put an end to these tragedies."

Medications including as methadone and buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone) are part of the gold standard of treatment for opioid addiction, and research has constantly shown that they help reduce cravings, crime linked to drug use, overdose deaths, and HIV risk behaviors, such as sharing syringes. Both medications have also been shown to help individuals stabilize their lives. Medication assisted treatment for opioid dependence is endorsed by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, the American Medical Association, and many other medical and public health organizations.

The bill’s passage comes amidst a growing opioid overdose problem in the state. Statewide, from 2003 to 2012, the number of poisoning deaths involving any drug more than doubled, from 777 deaths in 2003 to 1,950 in 2012. During the same time period, deaths involving opioid analgesics showed a more than four-fold increase, from 186 deaths in 2003 to 914 in 2012.

Many of the legislative proposals put forward in Albany this session to address the overdose problem are based on the failed drug war strategies of the past and include proposals to increase penalties for drug possession, commit people to involuntary drug treatment, and create stigma that drives people away from harm reduction and treatment. In contrast, this bipartisan bill, S.4239-B /A.6255-B, encourages the use of evidence-based drug treatment. Advocates are also calling on the legislature to provide additional support to harm reduction programs, which are proven means to reduce disease transmission and link people to care and treatment, and to repeal the state’s criminal law on syringe possession in order to fight the Hepatitis C and HIV epidemics.

Kassandra Frederique, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliancesaid, “Expressly allowing for the use of MAT and prohibiting drug courts from kicking people out of drug courts for using MAT will improve outcomes, help address New York’s growing heroin and prescription opioid crisis, and bring New York State into compliance with federal recommendations. We need to see more of this kind of strategy — one based in science, compassion, and public health that encourages treatment — rather than the failed punitive policies that many legislators in Albany are promoting.”

The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk where advocates are calling for him to sign it swiftly.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.