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Cuomo proposes tougher regulation of synthetic fentanyl

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, new measures to battle the state's drug epidemic in front of a crowd of more than 50 at the state police Troop L barracks in East Farmingdale. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

Eleven forms of fentanyl, a powerful and deadly opioid, should be added to New York State’s controlled substance list to boost enforcement, and insurance companies should be forced to reimburse first responders for higher doses of the anti-overdose drug naloxone, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed Thursday on Long Island.

With support from State Police, and local and state officials, Cuomo announced the new measures to battle the state’s drug epidemic before a crowd of more than 50 people at the State Police Troop L barracks in East Farmingdale.

Cuomo urged state legislators to make the 11 fentanyl analogues Schedule I drugs, which would give law enforcement the ability to go after the dealers who manufacture and sell them. The substances are already on the federal list of controlled substances.

Cuomo also wants legislators to give the state health commissioner authority to add to the state list any new drugs that are added to the federal list.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and can come in a number of forms, including liquid, powder or pressed pill. Cuomo said as little as 3 milligrams of the drug can be fatal, compared to 30 milligrams of heroin. Fentanyl-related deaths increased in New York nearly 160 percent between 2015 and 2016, Cuomo said.

In New York State, fentanyl is currently a Schedule II drug, which makes it a felony to sell it on the street and a crime to use it without a prescription. Labeling the drug and its derivatives as Schedule I would bring “more penalties and stricter penalties,” Cuomo said, and put it on the same level as heroin.

The fentanyl derivatives are already a Schedule I drug on the federal level, and Cuomo’s proposal would bring state law into line with federal law.

Cuomo also proposed a change to help officials responding to fentanyl overdoses. He said the state would advise insurance companies that do business in New York that they must pay for more doses of naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, and cannot impose “arbitrary limits” on the number of doses covered. Fentanyl overdoses require five times as much naloxone as heroin overdoses.

“The insurance companies won’t reimburse law enforcement, hospitals, EMS for the additional doses of naloxone,” Cuomo said. “If they don’t administer the drug, the person dies.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the policies would benefit the county, where he said fentanyl has quickly become the “number one killer.”

“It’s critical these individuals creating these drugs, selling these drugs . . . know they will be caught, they will be punished,” he said.

In April, Nassau and Suffolk counties released data showing nearly 500 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, with fentanyl overdoses increasing 175 percent from 2015.

Thursday’s announcement is part of a larger state effort to combat the spread of opioid use. Earlier this year, Cuomo and legislators authorized $200 million in additional spending toward treatment programs and naloxone training, among other tactics, with $23 million of that going to Long Island.

The announcement also coincided with a State Police announcement about a Medford drug bust in which three men were arrested and charged with selling K2, a synthetic form of marijuana. Police seized more than 1,000 packets of the drug, said State Police Superintendent George Beach.

“Synthetic drugs can be as dangerous as any drug out on the street,” he said. “Most users have no idea what chemicals they’re putting into their bodies.”

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