Op-Ed: Making Non-Opioid Treatment More Affordable

June 7, 2024

By Carmen Quinones

New York City continues to struggle with the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic.

We know the debilitating and too often fatal impact that opioid dependency can have on those who suffer from it, which is why it’s important for New York’s elected leaders to continue assessing how we can provide patients with less harmful alternatives to alleviate pain. The FDA’s approval of the first-ever non-opioid treatment for acute pain later this year, soon, may mean that we soon have our best tool to-date in combating patients’ pain without getting them addicted, making it more urgent than ever for lawmakers to act. 

There isn’t a single solution for overcoming the opioid epidemic. It requires a multi-pronged approach centered around education –making sure patients know the dangers of opioids and the alternatives that exist, and access (ensuring patients can access non-opioid alternatives at an affordable price). 

“… increase both education on and access to non-opioids.”

The bipartisan Alternatives to Prevent Addiction in the Nation (PAIN) Act, which is currently moving through Congress, serves as a great legislative template for how to increase both education on and access to non-opioids. The bill would ensure Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors, covers non-opioids, and also calls for a continued dialogue between patients and their healthcare professionals about preferences in pain management choices.

This federal legislation is very encouraging and I hope Congress passes it, but it’s also just one step – it’s crucial that we continue efforts here in state that build upon it and increase access for New Yorkers who receive their health insurance through programs outside of Medicare. 

Legislators in Albany have tried to get the ball rolling, but the efforts have stagnated.  

A4945, for example, is a proposal before the state legislature that would require health insurers to provide coverage for non-opioid treatments utilized for pain management. But the bill hasn’t moved in over a year, which is puzzling given that the opioid epidemic has not subsided and the alternatives we have at our disposal have improved.    

“… access to non-opioids for Medicaid enrollees could provide a major boost …”

New Yorkers can’t afford to wait any longer on increasing access to non-opioids. Waiting will only lead to more people in pain inadvertently developing addiction and all of the ill effects that come with it. Lawmakers should pick up where they left off with A4945, or at the very least, pursue legislation that increases education and covers non-opioids under our state-administered Medicaid program, which covers low-income New Yorkers. Ensuring access to non-opioids for Medicaid enrollees could provide a major boost in combating opioid abuse, as opioid abuse disorder has a pronounced impact on Americans enrolled in Medicaid.

“… support reforms that revolutionize pain management …” 

As the opioid epidemic continues and the FDA prepares to approve revolutionary non-opioid pain medications, the imperative for swift legislative action has never been more critical. I call on lawmakers to support reforms that revolutionize pain management, making these essential treatments available to all who need them. Let’s drive these vital changes and establish non-opioid pain relief as an accessible option across New York.

Carmen Quinones

Carmen Quinones is president of the NYCHA Frederick Douglass Houses resident association.

Photo credit: HWM.

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