Senate task force continues to fight heroin epidemic

In 2014, the Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction was formed to address the serious issue of heroin addiction which was reaching epidemic proportions in New York State and across the nation. As a member of the task force, I hosted a task force forum in my district to solicit input from local health care professionals, addiction experts, law enforcement officials, and concerned citizens. In all, 18 forums were held across the state to gather information.

The forums, which included expert testimony and real-life stories, clearly illustrated the need for swift action. At the forum I hosted, I heard from addiction specialists, law enforcement leaders, those in recovery, and a mother who lost her son to an addiction related suicide. It was clear, in my mind, that this destructive heroin epidemic had to be addressed immediately and a multi-prong strategy was needed to truly produce results.

The senate then took an aggressive approach, approving twenty-three bills, and, after negotiations with the assembly and governor, final agreement was reached on ten bills that have been signed into law. Among the bills, one that I sponsored which greatly improves access to insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment and dependency services.

Our work continued last year and 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

The senate also approved a number of additional measures aimed at enhancing and expanding on the laws enacted in 2014. Unfortunately, the state assembly failed to join us in passing the majority of the measures. That does not mean, however, that our work is done.

Just this past week, I again convened a task force hearing in my district. The local stakeholders on hand discussed the many steps that are now being taken in regard to the heroin epidemic and offered their thoughts on what else can be done. Many expressed the need for more treatment options and several pointed the finger at one large component of the problem – drug kingpins who prey on the addiction of others.

One piece of legislation that would help, known as Laree’s Law, would establish the crime of homicide by sale of an opioid controlled substance. The bill (S.4163) would allow law enforcement officials to charge a dealer with homicide if heroin or an opiate-controlled substance they sell causes an overdose death.

The law would specifically target 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.

Laree’s Law was passed by the senate last year but ignored by the assembly. I hope this year both houses will approve this measure and send it to the governor for his consideration.

Moving forward, the task force will be holding several more hearings around the state and will use the expert testimony to help formulate additional strategies to combat this deadly epidemic. We have made progress, but there is a great deal of work ahead as we work to stop this menace which is destroying lives, families, and entire communities.

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