Dear Commissioner Sanchez,
We are tired of waiting for the county to take action. It is long past time for them to be responsible in their roles to protect the public. See our letter to County Executive Jason Garnar below. Be sure to click the news links to see what he thought should be done PRIOR to being elected.
We have been calling on the county to track and report overdose deaths and reversals since August of 2015. Here we are, nearly two years later, still waiting.
Call County Executive Garnar today and ask him when he’ll start doing all the things he was demanding of the last administration.
June 25, 2017
Broome County Executive
60 Hawley Street
Binghamton, NY 13901
Dear County Executive Jason Garnar,
On June 24, 2017 the Village of Johnson City Police issued a warning about a surge in heroin overdoses, including three fatalities. We thanked them for their proactive approach in alerting their community. Due to their proactive approach, Truth Pharm and STAP worked together to immediately respond by advertising, promoting and handing out life-saving Naloxone kits during a three-hour time-slot on Sunday. Twenty-four people were trained and obtained kits.
This is what the response to a public health emergency looks like.
Also, due to their proactive approach, the news media published stories about the overdoses and the handing out of Naloxone kits, which caused hundreds of people in Broome County to engage in conversations about the opioid epidemic. In addition, hundreds of people were educated about: the dangers of using alone; the need to call 911; a particularly strong or ‘bad’ batch of heroin that was circulating; harm reduction practices they could use to reduce overdoses; and the lifesaving medication Naloxone. Conversations that our community desperately needs. In addition, two people reached out to Truth Pharm and will be placed into inpatient treatment tomorrow.
On February 23, 2017 you attended our in-depth presentation to local elected officials outlining the dire need for both care and harm reduction approaches in Broome County. We also made it clear that tracking of overdose data – both deaths and successful revivals – is the responsibility of our county government and needs to be done accurately, consistently and actively reported to the public.
We have seen zero progress on this front. We have been making requests for this information since August of 2015, we are approaching two years since then, over one hundred deaths and thousands of overdoses with no change to the system.
Prior to being elected as County Executive, you agreed that the community should be notified. We have communications from you to us directly stating so and ridiculing the prior administration for not being responsible in doing so. And you made your opinion public to the media. On August 12, 2016, WICZ started a report about overdoses with this line: “Broome County Executive Candidate Jason Garnar called for a public health warning on heroin overdoses Thursday night.” And later in the article included this as well, “Jason Garnar says it is a health risk when the public isn’t notified.” Garnar Calls for Public Health Warning Garnar Wants Better Accounting by the County
On August 11, 2016, in an article published by the Press & Sun Bulletin: “First and foremost, Broome County needs to declare a public health emergency,” said Garnar, the Democrat challenging Preston in the November election. But “what I’m more concerned about is it seems our county executive is not saying anything about this. We should be doing everything possible to get the word out there that something is out there that is killing people left and right.” The website for that article includes a video of you stating how important it is for the County Executive to release CURRENT information to the public in order to save lives. Garnar calls on Broome to Declare Opioid Emergency
It is nearly one year since you made those strong statements and you’ve been in office for six months. But, where is your action? Why aren’t you releasing notices to the public? You are now the one responsible to ensure the public is notified.
As we have in the past, we could provide multiple examples of other counties in New York State who are actively tracking and releasing overdose data, but we trust you can google and immediately find plenty of results just as easily as we can.
We also know this data already exists for the county. We recently learned that the county is planning to participate in a program to release all overdose data (deaths and reversals) to a mapping program run by the DEA. That mapped data will not be accessible by the public, but is utilized in drug investigations. We are beyond sickened to learn that the county is choosing to participate in an enforcement and further criminalization program as their priority over participating in issuing public health warnings and participating in harm reduction practices with data you ALREADY HAVE.
Your goal must be to save lives.
We are again requesting that the County Health Department immediately begin to take responsibility for counting the deaths of our loved ones due to substance use related causes and issuing that information to the public. This responsibility does not belong to the District Attorney, this is a health issue and belongs to our county health department.
We also want to remind you that funding from the state and federal government depends on accurately reporting both overdose and death data to state officials. We are being bypassed for funding, new programs and attention because our issues are not accurately reported.
Though it seems much of what was written in our letter of February 23, 2017, including working together cooperatively, has been ignored, we’ll attach the letter as a reminder of what we called for four months ago, please be sure to review request #3 which we’ll include below. The optimism we expressed in our letter is waning, but we as an organization continue to do the work necessary to save lives. You, as the County Executive, declared this opioid crisis a Public Health Emergency. With that declaration comes serious responsibility on your part.
Founder and Executive Director
cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, NYS Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker
So, “what,” you ask “does a Rainmaker do?”
What does Truth Pharm do?
Well, Rainmakers are change-makers, game-changers, powerhouses, people who refuse to accept no for an answer. They are optimistic, driven and produce results. Despite current negative conditions, they work to overcome. When a challenging problem exists with no apparent or clear solution – a Rainmaker will find and create solutions! They will take action.
That’s a Rainmaker – and that is what Truth Pharm is made up of. People who will create change and WILL have an impact on this epidemic.
Per our mission: Truth Pharm works to raise awareness, reduce the stigma, educate the public and advocate for policy and law changes surrounding substance use and treatment.
And here is a summary of how we went about creating change in 2016!
Awareness and Outreach Events:
Community Response Action Plans:
Police & Criminal Justice Outreach:
Obtaining Treatment, System Navigation, Family Awareness and Education:
Grants & Fundraising:
*2016 was the first year of our 501c3. Since we did not have nonprofit status in 2015, no fundraisers were hosted, no donations were accepted or EVER collected. ALL efforts in 2015 were financially supported and provided by Founder and Director Alexis Pleus.
July 14th, 2016
Yesterday, in a rare instance of bipartisanship, the Senate passed CARA by a 92-2 vote after the same passed just as easily in the House last week. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which came to be known as CARA begins to turn the government away from the war on drugs tactics and mass incarceration and more towards viewing addiction as a disease.
Many organizations, including Truth Pharm, have spent time advocating for the bill, writing letters, signing petitions, making calls and spending time on the hill speaking to our political leaders about supporting the bill. Not only the bill though, but the budgetary means to support the bill and to put the plans presented into action.
We are proud to say that Senator Chuck Schumer in upstate New York vocalized his concerns regarding the passage of the bill without funding stating, “we believe you’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
I was fortunate to hear Congressman Paul Tonko of New York’s Capital Region speak in Albany at a forum with Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Rep. Tonko said, as a governmental representative, he was sick to death of having family after family tell their heartbreaking stories of losing their loved one to this epidemic. He was tired of having elected officials parade our grief with little to no real action. He said, “we must respond in earnest to these gut wrenching stories.” He said that means providing FUNDING for CARA, not just passing it. “Passage without funding means nothing,” he said.
President Obama estimated that to fully implement the plans put forth by CARA, we would need $1.1 billion dollars. Last week, Democrats pushed to include at least $900 million in the passage of the bill to support implementation. Those numbers should not surprise anyone. This is a national health crisis.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. CARA passed, but lacks the funding needed to implement the proposed methods to address the epidemic.
So, while we celebrate the passage of this incredible bill that is a desperately needed change of direction, we are saddened and a little sickened that it is being celebrated and bragged about by so many who voted down the funding to support it.
Shame. We are partners with other organizations and have been involved in the conversations trying to decide if they should issue a statement of gratitude for the passage of CARA or state the truth; this is a bill of empty promise. We have grappled with the same.
This is a national health crisis. One which the government had a hand in starting by being irresponsible with their duties at the FDA and one which they perpetuate by a lack of response. We have a pharmaceutical industry outpacing all others in profit while our death tolls climb at a parallel rate. The government has been aware of this issue for at least a decade and is just now responding. States are scrambling to put controls in place to limit the prescribing of narcotic painkillers since the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility. As limits are put in place, the supply of heroin simply increases and the death toll slope gets a little steeper and the government can’t manage to capture even 10% of the heroin that comes into our country, per their own data.
The death toll of this epidemic has surpassed (by far) that of the AIDS epidemic and with less response. We have families going into debt, losing their savings, retirement, health, peace and sanity while their children are dying before their eyes. We get denials from insurance companies, discrimination from hospitals, inadequate and outdated treatment or provided no beds at all. The jails are filling, our children have a disease we cannot get treatment for, children are being orphaned and the path of destruction gets wider each day. It will be generations before we recover from the damage of this man made, doctor condoned, FDA approved, pharmaceutical windfall of an epidemic.
And our government has decided to wait several more months before funding the best chance we’ve had at turning this epidemic around. Another six months. Another 50,000 lives. More orphans. More incarceration. More people suffering with a disease we are not treating.
At the end of the day, we decided, the truth must be told.
I understand Bill A9211 is on the Ways and Means schedule for 6/1/16 (probably today as you read this). This bill would require insurance companies to pay for 90 days of inpatient addiction treatment when a physician says it is necessary.
I lost my son to a heroin overdose and there is no doubt in my mind his life would have been spared if it were not for insurance denial after insurance denial for the treatment he desperately needed.
But, it’s not just about my son. As I’m sure you are aware, many lives have been lost and we are losing more lives every single day.
We are a non-profit grassroots organization that works to reduce the stigma associated with addiction, educate about the disease of addiction and this health crisis and advocate for policy change.
We have thousands of members and unfortunately they come with thousands of stories of being denied treatment by their insurance carrier.
Our organization researched all of the bills related to heroin, opioids and addiction at the start of this session to find the bills that would have the greatest impact on the epidemic now – or basically, save the most lives. Of all the bills reviewed, the 90 Day Bill was the clear winner for having the greatest impact on this epidemic and in saving the most lives.
I, along with many of our volunteers, have met with many of you. Today I provided oral testimony at the Governor’s Heroin Task Force Forum in Binghamton, NY. In February I provided testimony in Penn Yan at the Senate’s Heroin Task Force. in April, one of our board members, Penny Stringfield provided testimony at the Senate Heroin Task Force in Binghamton, NY. We have read both reports produced by the Assembly and both reports produced by the Senate along with the 22 bills the Senate passed recently.
And will still say, little legislation has been presented that addresses the health needs of those addicted and who voluntarily ask for help. This 90 Day Bill stands out as being our greatest hope this session.
As far as budgetary concerns, we must consider the real cost of this epidemic and the costs to society and the tax payer now. We must find ways to require the medical industry who created this epidemic to respond responsibly, we must find ways to make the pharmaceutical industry pay for the damage they’ve caused and we must require insurers to cover the treatment for this life threatening illness no different than they do any other illness. These solutions will take the burden off of the New York State tax payer.
Some of the costs we must consider in NOT providing treatment are probation, incarceration, family court, criminal court, parole, rising crime rates, Hepatitis C treatment, foster care, adoption, family services, child protective services, family court, accidents, police enforcement, coroners and funerals. We are paying dearly, we are just not paying on the right end of this epidemic.
Furthermore, the cost of not providing effective treatment from the start, likely costs insurance carriers more. We know people who have gone through outpatient and short term stays 5-10 times and with a proven success rate of only 10%, it is no wonder. Add to that the toll it takes on the family and their health. And Hepatitis C treatments at $100k each.
Providing the type and length of treatment known to be effective from the onset makes sense. It makes sense because their lives are worth saving. It makes sense because it is how we treat all other illnesses. And it makes economic sense.
I’m attaching our Advocacy Agenda we have used for this session. The first page provides a snap shot of what happens when a person asks for help. The second page lists our asks.
We have worked very hard spending many days in Albany letting people know we are hoping for the passage of this bill this session. We request that you consider the positive impact this bill can have on families facing this addiction crisis as well as in protecting the tax payers of New York.
Feel free to contact us for any reason or if you have any questions.
And all of the Rainmakers at Truth Pharm
I wonder if you’ll bear with me to hear a personal story.
Last fall, I attended the FedUp Rally, Facing Addiction and Hill Day which were all back to back in D.C. All incredibly powerful events where I learned so much and was inspired by speaker after speaker.
But, believe it or not, the most inspiring 3 hours of the entire 5 days I was in Washington D.C. was spent in a room with 20 people pulled together by Nancy Carter Williams. Who were they? They were people hand selected by Nancy that she felt have accomplished incredible feats, have developed unique ways to raise awareness and were having a powerful impact on the opioid epidemic and BOY was she right! I was invited to speak and present for Truth Pharm and by the time it was my turn to speak, I felt minuscule in comparison to what I had heard from the people who went before me.
Two of the most inspiring people we heard from that day were two women from Kentucky. They told of a story about several bills being up for vote in Kentucky that everyone was sure would pass. They said they did the thing we all do – the shared the information on facebook, they made phone calls, sent emails and it seemed these bills would pass, after all, the state was facing an epidemic and these bills were SO important. When it came time for the bills to be voted on, they did not pass and the group was devastated. A group of moms decided the next session of the legislature, they would be at the capitol every day the legislature was in session and they would NOT leave until the bills passed. And they did just that.
I know many of us have different opinions about what can or should be done. There is a LOT Truth Pharm wants from our state government, but one thing I THINK we would all agree on is that currently, insurers are controlling how much treatment our loved ones get, and the amount of time is woefully low. We are seeing an average of 9 days being approved by insurance, which sets our loved ones up for a 90% relapse rate.
There is a bill in our State Senate AND Assembly this year that we have been calling “The 90 Day Bill”. Remarkably, the bill that was written in the Senate, was written by a Republican and our Senate is Republican led and the bill written in the Assembly was written by a Democrat and our Assembly is Democrat led.
This means, two things. 1. a shorter span of time to move the bill forward and 2. the bill has a fantastic chance of passing.
But, it will NOT pass this session unless we can get the bill to move forward. And to get it to move forward, we need face to face time with our political leaders asking them to please sign on as cosponsors and to urge their colleagues to move the bill forward.
Truth Pharm has taken 4 trips to Albany and we have several more dates coming up: May 10, 11, 24 and June 2 and 24th and we may add more days. You could go with us, meet us there, plan your own trip, go separately, whatever you like, but we should all work together to make this happen. We can only do this with everyone’s help.
People were telling us yesterday we had a good chance of getting this passed ‘next session’… let’s make it happen THIS SESSION!
If you’d like to be involved, please fill out this survey: Click Here for Survey.
To see Truth Pharm’s Advocacy Agenda for 2016, click here.
Below is the letter we sent to the senators of Maine urging them to overturn the veto by Governor LePage of the Naloxone Bill L.D. 1547 that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense Naloxone without a prescription in addition to expanding access to Naloxone by Fire Departments and Police Officers.
In Governor LePage’s veto he states that Naloxone “serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction” clearly indicating that his preference would be to allow them to die. He also stated in his official veto that “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”
Apparently Governor LePage has never met anyone in recovery. We have. We believe in recovery and we know recovery is only impossible for those who are not living.
Here is our letter:
We are a national organization working to raise awareness, reduce stigma, create and implement programs and advocate for policy changes to have a profound impact on the opioid crisis.
That’s a very long way to say, each and every day we are comforting mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and the CHILDREN of people who are overdosing and dying.
Each and every day we are working to support those in recovery.
Each and every day we are scrambling to find ways to save the lives of those addicted.
Each and every day we are working to convince people who are addicted that their lives matter.
Between their addiction which tells them otherwise, a society that stigmatizes their existence, a criminal justice system which criminalizes their disease and state and national policies that do not demand the required medical attention as any other illness, it is hard to find ways to convince them that their lives DO matter.
The current system in the United States is leaving our children to die. People with a life-threatening, debilitating and deadly disease that can kill them in an instant if left untreated are being turned away from treatment within hours of a near death experience due to lack of treatment availability, the greed of insurance companies, reluctance of medical providers to take responsibility and lax laws protecting people who are addicted.
How does this go on? Stigma. Our nation seems to believe these lives are not worth saving. Perhaps words come out of politicians mouths declaring differently, but what do the actions show? The actions show, laws can be changed next year, treatment can be available some day and it doesn’t matter that we are losing over 130 lives each day – we’ll keep losing them while we figure this all out.
Then along comes Governor LePage who does not feign words, does not pretend he cares; he flat out, blatantly says, “these lives are not worth saving.”
This seems ghastly to so many. This seems like an outrage. It would seem to many, this can’t be real, WHO would think this way? WHO would say such a thing.
Those of us on the front lines say, “Welcome to our world.” Between the actions and inaction of state and federal governments and the comments we see on news articles daily – and the fact that our children are literally dying; Governor LePage simply said out loud the stigma we and those addicted are faced with every day. The message in our nation today is loud and clear – you don’t think our children’s lives and you don’t think the lives of those of us addicted are worth saving.
And then people wonder why so few can pull themselves into recovery when this is the message they are given.
We need you to stand up and SHOW us this is not true. We beg you today to send a different message.
What Governor LePage has done is outrageous and the last thing we need is yet another message out there to add to the impression that addicts lives don’t matter.
We know they do.
The grief over losing my son matters.
The grief of the mothers and fathers of over 250,000 lives lost since 2010 matters.
The many volunteers who work for our organization who are living in recovery and have their lives back – their lives matter. For several of them, Naloxone IS what gave them that second change.
The 23 million plus people living in recovery in the United States matter.
And the lives of over 20 million people still struggling with addiction in the United States today – MATTER.
Please send a clear message that you believe this to be true. Please override the veto of LD1574.
We will be watching the vote so we can let Mainers and all of the United States know which of you believe our children’s lives are worth saving.
Thank you sincerely,
The entire team at Truth Pharm
Please join us in compelling the senators to overturn the veto. Please send letters ASAP. They vote 4/29/16
If you don’t wish to write your own letter, here is a sample letter developed by “Young People in Recovery” that you can send:
***LD1574 Veto Override Email Template***
Dear Sen. ________,
I am writing to implore you override the vetoing of LD1547, “An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders”.
There is no evidence to support the claim that Naloxone increases drug use, and studies show the exact opposite. Having access to Naloxone saves lives and increases the potential for a transition in to treatment, whereupon people frequently find recovery and sustained abstinence.
It is imperative to allow for this life saving opioid reversal medication to be made available to those that need it. With the rural nature of the Sate of Maine, often the first on the scene to a person that is experiencing an overdose, and the person that will administer the Naloxone, is a family member or friend. Empowering them with tools to assist in the reversal and transition into recovery, is paramount.
We have the opportunity to join the rest of New England, and dozens of other states across the U.S., in increasing the potential for someone to enter recovery, heal with their family and friends, and rebuild their lives in the community. For those in charge of the safety and wellbeing of the public, this can and should be a priority.
As a person in recovery, a voter, and community member, I thank you for your attention to this important issue and again urge you to override the veto of LD1547.
Go to this page: http://legisweb1.mainelegislature.org/…/senator-i…/senators/
At the top of the page, there is an excel file you can download that has all of the senators’ email addresses in it. You can even copy them all at once and paste them into the “To” field of your email.
Alexis Pleus of Truth Pharm provides oral testimony at New York State Heroin Task Force in Penn Yan, NY