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Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes aim at heroin addiction in state

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about heroin addiction

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about heroin addiction and drug use during a news conference at SUNY Old Westbury College on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Credit: Daniel Rader

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- saying New York "has a problem with heroin addiction" -- Wednesday detailed a state plan to nearly double the number of state troopers assigned to narcotics work and supply all first-responders with a widely used heroin overdose antidote.

Cuomo said the state would also provide heroin and opioid awareness training to students, teachers and police at all public colleges and universities.

"This is a drug that is so potent and grabs hold of young people so quick that literally in a matter of weeks it can accelerate from one bad afternoon of experimentation to death," the governor said at a news conference at SUNY Old Westbury.He added: "It's even worse than crack with the way it can grab a young person and can take over their life."

Cuomo's announcement follows earlier state-level initiatives, including recent proposals by state lawmakers to pass anti-heroin bills and a state attorney general initiative to provide the antidote to police statewide.

Heroin killed 121 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2012 and at least 120 last year, the two highest totals ever that data show, according to county records.

"Here on Long Island is one of the ground zeros for the heroin epidemic," Cuomo said. He said 100 experienced investigators will be assigned to the state Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, which has five units statewide that assist local departments to fight drug trafficking and related street crime. That nearly doubles CNET's number.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who joined Cuomo, said dormitory resident assistants and others will be trained to recognize warning signs for prescription and heroin abuse.

Mary Elisabeth Ostermann, who also joined Cuomo, said her daughter, Emily, 21, died in December of an overdose of the prescription drug fentanyl after she also became addicted to cocaine, crack and heroin. Ostermann, of Merrick, said Cuomo was "taking action to help families like mine and young people like Emily who have lost so much to drug addiction."

Cuomo later said numbers of deaths on Long Island from heroin "show a frightening increase," adding, "We're going to now step up the efforts even more."

The governor adds his voice to a bipartisan group of state lawmakers calling for action. "Heroin is becoming a big problem in this state, and we have to address that in these waning days of session," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said Wednesday.

On Monday, the State Senate approved 25 anti-heroin proposed bills by a Senate task force after 18 hearings.

In April, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman made Narcan, a nasal spray, available to police departments statewide, and local police have credited it with saving hundreds of lives. Some local EMTs in Nassau and Suffolk also administer the antidote.

In an email, Schneiderman's spokesman, Matt Mittenthal, applauded Cuomo's efforts, saying the fight "will take an all-hands-on-deck approach."

Cuomo said: "It's our jobs as a citizen, as a parent, as a system, as a brother, as a neighbor, as a friend," to solve the problem.

With Yancey Roy

and Michael Gormley

State & Region