State senators propose anti-heroin bills

A kit with naloxone, also known by its

A kit with naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is displayed at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City, N.J. on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Credit: AP / Mel Evans)

ALBANY -- State legislators proposed Wednesday that schools across the state be equipped with a heroin-overdose antidote as they introduced a package of bills aimed at slowing the rapid rise in heroin use statewide.

Other measures in the 25-bill package by a Senate task force would convert shuttered state prisons to drug-addiction treatment centers, limit certain opioid prescriptions to 10-day supplies and change insurance laws to get addicts into inpatient treatment settings sooner than under current law -- an initiative that backers said would make the most immediate impact.

"A terrible heroin and opioid epidemic has gone statewide, from Buffalo to Montauk, New York City, rural communities and everywhere throughout the state," said Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who led the Senate's Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. "It's caused tragedy, loss of life and destruction across the state."

Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, who attended a task force news conference, said his daughter is a heroin addict currently in treatment.

The panel released its recommendations after conducting 18 hearings across the state, attended by more than 2,100 residents.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the statewide forums showed that "a lot of very angry folks out there" are demanding that lawmakers take action. "Suddenly, this has become a squarely middle-class problem," Reynolds said. "Families who haven't had to deal with problems like these are beating down legislators' doors."

One task force measure, sponsored by Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), would equip schools with naloxone, the overdose antidote often known by its brand name, Narcan, to prevent overdose deaths. Earlier this year, the legislature approved a bill to allow pharmacies to supply prescriptions for naloxone to organizations including treatment agencies in order to increase access to the drug.

Hannon, chairman of the health committee, said a bill to limit certain opioid prescriptions to a 10-day supply would "take off the streets the excess pills that we've been seeing."

Earlier this year, Senate Democrats proposed a package of bills to expand insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment, increase certain criminal penalties and increase access to naloxone.

"Heroin and opioid abuse is not Republican or Democratic issue and I am glad my colleagues . . . are helping work toward solutions," Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said.

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