Citing the growing epidemic of heroin and prescription opiate overdoses across the region, state Sen. Rich Funke , R-Perinton, today announced a package of new targeted legislation.
“The goal here is to use the information we have to craft sensible public policy,” Funke said, who made the announcement alongside Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn. “Heroin impacts more than just addicts; it impacts our healthcare system, our schools, families and, of course, law enforcement.”
The new legislation includes changes to laws that will stiffen charges for drug dealers, placing a strong emphasis on law enforcement in the fight against heroin. Included in the package are “Laree’s Law,” which would allow murder charges against drug dealers if the user succumbs to an overdose; increasing the penalty for “polydrug,” or heroin cut with other substances; and stricter penalties for distribution to minors or on the grounds of drug and alcohol treatment centers.
“Nothing we do legislatively will be as effective as getting this poison off the streets,” Funke said.
While many of the proposals strengthen existing laws through harsher penalties, Funke also presented some legislation that functions as preventative measures, such as requiring counseling for all patients prescribed opiates and allowing the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to provide funding to for-profit treatment centers.
The package, previously presented in 2016, failed to pass the New York State Assembly.
“Next year, I hope the Assembly does the right thing,” Funke said. “There has been too many lives cut short and too many parents burying their children.”
While the epidemic surges on—taking 75 lives in Monroe County in 2016, according to the New York State Department of Health—O’Flynn said law enforcement is making a notable impact on the community.
“Two years ago we met with law enforcement in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they have something called the ANGEL Program,” O’Flynn said. “We took that and completely redefined their model to better fit our needs in our community.”
The ANGEL Program is law enforcement approach that promotes treatment over punishment for addicts. Launched in 2015, the program essentially allows addicts to approach police for help. If they choose to surrender their drugs and paraphernalia, they will face no charges and instead be guided through treatment facilities.
“The four most important things in fighting this epidemic are enforcement, prevention, education and treatment,” O’Flynn said.
Related tactics taken by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office include providing all officers with Naloxone, an opioid blocker used to counteract overdoses, and training, as well as providing Vivitrol, a substance used to block and curb cravings for opiates and alcohol, to inmates.
Despite efforts to counteract the epidemic, it rages on. While there have been overdose deaths in 2016—75 compared to 2015’s 81—the number of of emergency room visits for overdoses has nearly doubled, from 253 in 2015 to 468 in 2016.
Seeing no end in sight without stricter legislation, Funke said he will not back down on his proposals should the Assembly decide against them again.
“If I have to stand up here every day and do a news conference every day until these bills are passed, that’s what I’ll do,” Funke said.
The legislature is reconvening in early January.