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ALBANY - The Senate’s majority on Tuesday pushed for programs to prevent and treat heroin and opioid addiction while providing law enforcement with more tools to combat high-level dealers.
The 48 recommendations by Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference that works closely with the GOP majority include a few bills that are, so far, supported by the Assembly’s Democratic majority, which is pursuing its own course. The Senate and Assembly have less than a month to agree on the policies and how to spend funding intended to help addiction recovery and public education programs before the end of the legislative session on June 16.
The measures from the Senate task force that held public hearings statewide include a bill to limit initial prescriptions of controlled substances to treat acute pain to a five-day supply, pending further consultation with a physician; required counseling on the dangers of opioid abuse for patients before they receive prescriptions; examine and potentially expand coverage for addiction treatment by health insurers; increase penalties for selling drugs at parks and on playgrounds; and create the crime of homicide by sale of an opioid.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said the Senate is making the package of bills a top priority for the end of the session. An hour before the Senate’s news conference, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $1 million in funding was sent across upstate to expand addiction treatment and family support programs.
Hannon was credited by treatment groups Tuesday as making addiction a public health issue rather than a law enforcement one in the Senate. He said, however, despite all the media and political attention and $166 million included in the current state budget, much work remains.
“I think we are getting a handle on the breadth of the problem,” Hannon said in an interview. “I don’t think we are turning it around yet.”
“This is an epidemic that has hit Long Island like no other place,” said Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury).
Newsday has reported that Suffolk County set records in opiate deaths last year with 126 from heroin overdoses and 54 from fentanyl overdoses. The county has led the state, including New York City, in the number of fatal heroin overdoses, which have spiked in Nassau and other counties statewide.
“We have been fighting for a solution for the heroin and opioid epidemic for years and look forward to reviewing these bills, and we just wish this package and ours would have been introduced sooner,” said Michael Murphy, spokesman for the Senate’s Democratic minority conference.
There was no immediate comment from the Assembly majority.