Tonko takes aim at opioid crisis

January 29, 2018 10:43 AM

ALBANY - Inside Rep. Paul Tonko's Albany office, heartbreaking stories of the opioid crisis echo through the walls from the people who struggled with it.

“I'm a person in recovery from the disease of addiction,” said recovering addict Brendon Norton.

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Norton's recovery began about three years ago after an addiction that started with a trip to the hospital and a life-threatening injury.

“My life had basically fallen apart at 23 years old. I was forced to move back home with my mother,” he said.

He was home with painkillers. He never turned to illegal drugs. The pills, he says, were just a phone call away and a $5 co-pay.

Norton was among a few recovering addicts in Tonko's office Saturday morning, putting a face to the opioid and heroin epidemic.

"As he's indicated in very powerful expression, if he could save just one life by sharing his story, it's worth it,” Tonko said.

Tonko says deaths from overdoses continue to rise every year. Roundtable discussions are important to get a sense of what needs to be done.

“One of the most important messages is, very few people are getting treatment. Twenty percent of those who require treatment are getting that treatment,” Tonko said.

He's introduced measures before to increase treatment opportunities. Now he's pushing for more. That's why Norton will be attending the State of the Union address as his guest. He's hoping President Donald Trump will mention the crisis in his remarks.

"I'm going to the State of the Union address. [It’s] something I never believed in my life that I would ever be doing,” Norton said.

Trump did declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. But Tonko says that was all talk and no action.

“The president cut the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent,” Tonko said.

He's hoping to put a local face at the State of the Union to a crisis of grave national importance that requires a lot of attention.


WNYT Staff

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