Senate heroin task force continues to battle deadly epidemic

One of the signature accomplishments of the 2014 legislative session was the passage of a comprehensive package of bills to combat New York State’s growing heroin and opioid crisis. The measures target prevention, treatment, and enforcement issues raised during extensive testimony provided by dozens of experts, parents, and concerned New Yorkers at the 18 forums held around the state by the Senate Majority Coalition’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, including one I hosted in my district.

While the new laws are making a difference, the stark reality is that we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to dealing with this epidemic. For that reason, I continue to serve as a member of the special senate task force, and we are not letting up in our fight.

The 2015-16 state budget provided significant funding for programs targeting heroin treatment and prevention, including: $7.8 million in funding for statewide prevention, treatment and recovery services; $450,000 to purchase Narcan kits given out for free to individuals who participate in a Narcan training class; and $140,000 to finance the cost of Narcan kits for staff and nurses authorized to administer Narcan in the event of a heroin or opioid overdose at school.

For those unfamiliar with Narcan, it can be used to help reverse a potentially deadly heroin overdose and stories of emergency responders and police effectively using the drug to save lives are in the news almost daily. I hosted a training session in my district last year and was trained myself on the procedure to administer the lifesaving medication.

Most recently the senate approved a number of additional measures that will enhance and expand on the laws enacted last year. The new bills will help decrease heroin deaths and put more drug dealers behind bars for peddling dangerous opioids.

The legislation includes:

- Establishing the crime of homicide by sale of an opioid controlled substance, also known as “Laree’s Law”(S.4163): Allows law enforcement to charge a drug dealer with homicide if a person dies from an opiate controlled substance sold by that dealer. The law specifically targets those who seek to profit from heroin and other opioid sales – not a witness or other person who may have been doing drugs (i.e. a “co-user”) with a victim at the time of an accidental overdose. In 2011, New York adopted a “Good Samaritan” law that shields individuals from charges related to an accidental overdose if they try to help victims by timely reporting the incidents;

- Preventing the sale of synthetic opioids (S.1640): Expands the list of controlled substances in schedules I, II, III, IV, and V to include any controlled substance which is intended for human consumption and is structurally or pharmacologically substantially similar to, or is represented as being similar to heroin, opium, or other opioid-based narcotic. This would help combat the quickly-moving world of designer drugs;

- Expanding treatment options for individuals in judicial diversion programs for opioid abuse or dependence (S.4239B): Provides that under no circumstances shall a defendant who requires treatment for opioid abuse or dependence be deemed to have violated the release conditions on the basis of his or her participation in medically prescribed drug treatments while under the care of a qualified and licensed physician acting within the scope of his or her lawful practice;

- Establishing assisted outpatient treatment for substance use disorders (S.631): Enables a court to order assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for an individual with a substance use disorder who, due to his or her addiction, poses a threat to him, herself, or others.

Other bills would help increase education of medical professionals concerning heroin and opioid abuse, improve care for people with serious mental illness, and provide parents with the ability to file a Person In Need of Supervision (PINS) petition in family court for the potential placement of a child who is suffering from a substance use disorder into a substance use treatment program.

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