State lawmakers act to curb heroin, opioid abuse

ALBANY -- The State Senate approved a series of more than 20 bills Monday aimed at curbing the rapid growth in heroin and opioid abuse.

Long Island lawmakers led the push for the package of bills. But whether any of the measures become law depends on whether the Senate can negotiate compromises with the Democrat-led Assembly to pass legislation before adjourning for the summer on June 18.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), chairman of the bipartisan Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which introduced the package of 25 bills, said he was "optimistic" Monday's round of approvals would put the measures on the Assembly's "radar."

"This is a nonpartisan issue," Boyle said. "I think both the Senate and the Assembly and the governor understand this is a statewide epidemic . . . "

Assembly leaders held their final roundtable on the package of bills Monday, and plan on "introducing a plan and hope to have an agreement before the conclusion of the session," said Kerri Biche, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Biche said the Assembly was not ready to disclose when it would introduce its plan.

Among the 23 bills that passed Monday was a measure sponsored by Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) to allow schools to possess and administer naloxone to treat opioid overdoses. Those who administer the overdose remedy would be protected by Good Samaritan laws from any liability. The measure passed 59-0.

Hannon, Boyle and Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) are part of the 25-member Senate committee that held 18 forums throughout the state earlier this year, collecting testimony from addiction experts and affected families in an effort to shape the legislation.

"We'd like to see no more parents in New York State lose a child to heroin or opioid addiction," Boyle said.

In March, the Senate approved two of the package's other measures. One would increase the penalties for theft of controlled substances and the other would make it a Class B felony for medical practitioners and pharmacists to operate so-called "pill mills" that dispense fraudulent prescriptions.

Some of the measures related to increasing criminal penalties against those caught selling the substances were met with resistance by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, who argued they would increase incarceration rates while not addressing the root causes leading to drug abuse.

"This unfortunately criminalizes a whole bunch of behavior that's not criminal . . . [and] will ultimately lead to more incarceration," said Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). He argued that the increase in drug abuse should be treated "not as a criminal issue, but as a public health issue."

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