The New York State administration has announced funding cuts to services for addiction recovery. The decision brings in sharp focus wrong political commitments by Governor Cuomo as the fallout of the coronavirus crisis is already fueling the addiction epidemic.

The administration of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has declared that many recipients of state funding would face 20% cuts unless the federal government came through with a financial bailout package for New York.

Now, despite the rising concerns about alcohol addiction and drug overdose deaths with the ongoing pandemic the state administration has informed localities that it was cutting state payments used to fund alcohol and other drug treatment programs by 31% starting immediately.

The announced cut applies to funding that the state sends to counties, which in turn fund local, private treatment providers. It remains unclear, however, how much the state is cutting funding it provides directly to some providers.

Many service providers have stated they were not given any warning and considering the increased demand they do not know how they will cope with the steep cut to funding.

Programs will close.

More people will die and we’re going to have a real difficult situation on our hands in communities across New York State,” said John Coppola, Executive Director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, as per Auburnpub.com.

John Coppola, Executive Director, New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers

The Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (ASAP) represents the interests of the largest alcoholism and substance use prevention, treatment, recovery, research and training providers in the country. They work to support organizations, groups and individuals that prevent and alleviate the profound personal, social and economic consequences of alcoholism and substance use disorder in New York State.

Paying the price for wrong political priorities

The cuts to urgently needed mental health and substance abuse services comes at the wrong, betrays wrong political priorities over years and will have long-term negative consequences for health and economy in New York State.

Communities across the United States are facing the formation of a perfect storm of factors driving alcohol and other drug use disorders to higher rates than ever seen before – the so called “triple trouble” of a pandemic, unemployment, and diminished personal and community support services for people affected by substance use problems. Mental health experts are anticipating a steep rise in alcohol harm, opioid abuse, suicides, domestic violence and depression that could rival the toll from COVID-19 itself. All this is by political design, as law makers favor Big Alcohol’s profits over communities’ health services.

Governor Cuomo, for instance, did the alcohol industry a favor by declaring alcohol retail “essential” in the midst of the still ongoing public health crisis.

In an blog post from 2016, Movendi International’s Maik Dünnbier concluded:

Governor Cuomo has a track record of ignoring public health and social costs due to alcohol, and instead boosting his buddies in the alcohol industry.”

Maik Dünnbier, Director of Strategy and Advocacy, Movendi International

Even before the current public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, New York State suffered from a substance use crisis. Alcohol harm, for instance, is rampant:

  1. Alcohol use is the third leading behavioral cause of death in the United States.
  2. 18.000 New Yorkers die every year due to alcohol-related causes.
  3. As a contributor to injuries and chronic disease, alcohol is a factor in one in ten hospitalizations in New York City.
  4. One in five New Yorkers reports being harmed due to someone else’s alcohol use.
  5. Nearly one quarter (23%) of all youth reported consuming alcohol for the first time before the age of 13. Evidence shows, the earlier a person starts using alcohol, the more they consumer later on in life and the higher is the likelihood for them to develop an alcohol use disorder.
  6. Under-age alcohol use and binge alcohol use are a big problem in New York.
    1. More than four in ten (44%) current youth that consume alcohol are engaging in binge consumption.
  7. There are 40.000 licenses for selling alcohol in New York State, 20.000 in New York City alone.
  8. 58% of all licensed outlets sold alcohol to minors.

Alcohol and COVID-19, a dangerous mix

Research shows a robust correlation between unemployment or precarious household finances plus rising death rates among the working age population, especially men. The numbers are particularly dramatic in white, high school–educated, middle-aged men and women from rural parts of United States, where financial insecurity due to unemployment is pervasive. They, and their children, often have only weak hopes for a better future. They lack health insurance or other government support, and intoxicants like opioids and alcohol are readily available as easy, but harmful tools for coping.

Despite this context, Governor Cuomo allowed restaurants to add beer, wine and liquor to takeout and delivery options. New York State also declared liquor stores “essential” businesses, allowing them to remain open during lockdown – fueling alcohol availability and related harm.

Casualties from the mental health problems are expected to rival the pandemic itself. Deaths from drug overdoses and suicide totaled about 110,000 a year before the novel coronavirus ravaged communities across the U.S. Experts warn that each 5% increase in unemployment leads to about 3,000 additional suicides and 4,800 overdose deaths. Thus, a 20% unemployment rate would cause an additional 20,000 deaths.

The coronavirus crisis is projected to leave well over 30 million people in the United States out of work and many more without health insurance or other safety-net protections. This is further compounded by the fact that substance use generally rises following major traumatic events. People who were already struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders are even more vulnerable after crises.

As of July 16, New York’s unemployment rate was at 15.7%, as per Spectrum Local News reporting. In New York City, which had been an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, more than one in five people are unemployed, a rate of 20.4 percent. 

Cuts for public health but support for Big Alcohol’s special interests

New York State’s fiscal year began on April 1, 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic hit the state the budget fell out of balance as the economy had to be shut down.

The state administration has since been warning about $8.5 billion cuts in state aid to a variety of local services, including education and a slew of health and mental health services that counties or nonprofit agencies provide on the state’s behalf. The administration has reduced state funding – worth about $74 million – to a number of cities. The cuts were defined as being “withheld” pending decisions in Washington D.C. over a stimulus package to cope with the COVID-19 fallout.

According to Mr. Coppola, the 31% cut will force programs to target staffing levels, which, in turn, will result in fewer people being able to receive treatment for alcohol and other drug addictions. He believes adolescent treatment and detox programs which are already at capacity are most at risk from the upcoming cut to funding.

The World Health Organization has recommended for governments to invest in “maintaining and strengthening alcohol and drug services.”


For further reading

Missed Chance To Improve New York Alcohol Law

USA: Big Alcohol Uses COVID-19 to Change Alcohol Laws

USA: Tidal Wave of Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders Coming

USA: COVID-19 Could Accelerate ‘Deaths of Despair’


Source Website: auburnpub.com