We are nurses in New York’s Hudson Valley who have been personally touched by the opioid epidemic besieging our communities.

Three of our peers recently experienced the loss of a family member from opioid addiction. As frontline caregivers, we too often feel powerless. During our careers we have witnessed drug addiction and overdose, but recently we have witnessed many drug-related deaths among the children of friends. We can’t remain silent. Mental health and substance use disorders—including addiction and dependence on heroin and prescription opioid medications—are quickly reaching epidemic proportions. In New York, there were 3,009 drug-induced deaths in 2015, a 54 percent increase over 10 years, equaling or exceeding the national average every single year.

A shocking 1.4 million New Yorkers currently suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Policymakers have pursued several strategies to address the crisis, including new appropriations for treatment and prevention and improved rules for prescribers. We support these measures, but comprehensive health insurance—which covers 94 percent of New Yorkers—remains the foundation of New York’s response.

Our concerns intensified when the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA). Slashing Medicaid spending in the midst of this opioid epidemic will deprive millions of Americans of the rehabilitation services they’ve benefited from since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. Without access to affordable, comprehensive coverage, those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders will be unable to access the care they need, including the medication assisted treatments.

The AHCA also withdraws funding disproportionately from rural areas, which are financially vulnerable, dependent on public payers and most affected by the epidemic. Compounding the harm, the bill imposes $1 billion in new cuts to New York’s Disproportionate Share Hospitals, forcing cutbacks at uninsured New Yorkers’ last best option for care. Eliminating treatment services that could plunge addicts back into disease.

Our New York elected officials know the problems, yet Congressman John Faso and four other upstate Congressional representatives voted for the disastrous AHCA. The U.S. Senate now has the responsibility to ensure that health care remains accessible and affordable to everyone.

Linda Dickman,
RN, Orange Regional Medical Center
Erica Broussard,
RN, Orange Regional Medical Center

Let’s hear from you. Send your letters to: 1199SEIU’s 1199 Magazine, 330 W. 42nd St, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10036, Attn: Patricia Kenney, Editor; or email them to Patriciak@1199.org. Please put Letters in the subject line of your email.

- 1199 Magazine - May/June 2017