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New York law would help law enforcement combat lethal opioid fentanyl

The proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shown

The proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shown in Westbury in November, would authorize the state Health Department to immediately ban new fentanyl analogs as they are added to the federal list of illegal controlled substances.   Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — The state would help law enforcement fight illegal fentanyl analog drugs — which have emerged as a lethal new aspect of the opioid epidemic — under a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo released Monday.

The bill would authorize the state Health Department to immediately ban new, manufactured fentanyl analogs as they are developed and added to the federal list of illegal controlled substances.

The analogs appear identical to fentanyl, but chemists in illegal labs change the chemical structure to avoid law enforcement detection and prosecution of distributors, authorities have said.

“In New York, we have taken aggressive action to combat this disease, and we are seeing results with the first reduction in opioid deaths in 10 years,” Cuomo said. “Despite this progress, drug dealers have turned to lacing opioids and other illicit drugs with fentanyl analogs — a deadly synthetic opioid that current law does not ban. This two-pronged proposal will tackle that problem by banning these dangerous fentanyl copycats and providing treatment to people suffering from opioid addiction before it’s too late.”

Cuomo’s bill would address a loophole in state law. Although federal officials have been combating the drugs under the authority of federal law, the fentanyl analogs aren’t specifically prohibited in New York unless they are combined with other substances that are illegal under state law.

In November, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing large amounts of counterfeit prescription pills that contain the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. The pills have been found on Long Island and in New York City, as well as other parts of the country, the DEA said.

Although deaths are now declining, opioids, particularly those containing fentanyl, have killed more than 600 people on Long Island since 2017, including 147 people in Nassau and 235 in Suffolk in 2018.

The DEA said the emerging drugs are cheap to make and unlimited in supply because they are manufactured.

The proposal would also bolster the state’s treatment of those hurt by opioid use through medication, education and counseling.

The proposal will be part of Cuomo’s State of the State address to the Legislature in January. The Legislature will then take up the proposals.

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