Government Measures Reinforce Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment

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by Robert Kimmel    

phelpsDrug overdose prevention and treatment have become the focus of medical authorities and lawmakers at the county, state and national level. Much of that attention is concentrated on reducing the usage of opiate drugs as painkillers, as well as educating both doctors and patients more about their use.

Actions to slow prescriptions of opioid drugs emerged more than a decade ago, when it became evident that their use, both through prescriptions and illicitly obtained street versions, was increasingly leading to addiction. Measures to curb that problem are still being enacted.

New York legislators last year passed a law limiting opioid painkiller prescriptions to seven days of the drugs, with some exceptions. The law also mandated insurance companies to expand coverage for initial inpatient treatment, and also increased addiction treatment centers statewide.

Phelps Hospital is among those whose emergency rooms have cut the prescription durations for opioids drugs even more deeply.  “Phelps does better than the state rules, limiting it to five days,” said Dr. Emil Nigro, an emergency medicine physician at the hospital’s ER. He also noted that Phelps’ ER does not prescribe opioids for chronic pain.

“With the prescription monitoring program, we can go on line and see whether or not a patient has had prescriptions filled for opioids or other controlled substances before we prescribe, to check whether the patient is a drug seeker,” Dr. Nigro added.

The American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force has been encouraging physicians to register and use state prescription monitoring programs as one of its actions to curb the opioid drug epidemic.

The AMA Task Force also supports the prescription of the life-saving drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, to patients at risk of overdosing. “Narcan is helpful and it can save lives when administered…especially if the patient has overdosed on heroin,” Dr. Nigro said.

Free training on how to recognize and react to an opioid overdose by using naloxone is offered by the Westchester County Health Department. It provides a training kit to those who attend its scheduled training sessions. Registration forms are available on the department’s website,, and more information can be obtained by calling 914-995-6584.

Additional emphasis on preventing the opioid and heroin epidemic from enlarging at the local level was announced by County Executive Rob Astorino this past spring. Named Project Worthy, it assembled a variety of resources and expertise including leaders in general health, mental health, law enforcement, business and community organizations.

“Combating addiction takes many efforts at all levels,” is the point made by Theresa Yanarelli, the Director of Phelps Addiction Treatment Services. She said that New York State agencies are “working hard to have people access treatment when they need it.” The state has been allocating funds to increase beds for inpatients and more services for outpatients, Yanarelli noted.

Phelps treats inpatients at its Ossining facility as well as outpatients. Up to half of the patients being treated are there through a court order, probation, or parole, according to Yanarelli.

“We have had many more young adults, 20s to 30s, coming in for treatment and a greater level of care, in recent years than we had prior to that,” Yanarelli said. “Pills have become much more ‘recreational’ for adolescents and young adults.”

“Treatment for substance abuse,” she explained, “is a combination of education, counseling and medication, a wide variety of therapeutic modalities.” Yanarelli praised what she said were “a lot of community efforts reaching out to young people to educate and assist them in regard to drug dependence.”

The Westchester County Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth is one such organization. It represents anti-drug groups throughout the county. Within its coalition is the Power to the  whose aim is “to empower parents, to give them the hardcore facts about drinking and drugs….to help them communicate with their teens.” Information is available at its website, Power, or by calling 914-332-1300.

Also read: Tall Cop Talks About Drug and Alcohol Abuse


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