Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Announce Agreement on Package of Bills to Combat Heroin, Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

June 19, 2014

From the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders today announced an agreement has been reached on a series of bills to help address the growing heroin and opioid epidemic, as well as prescription drug abuse, in New York State. The legislation includes new programs and insurance reforms to improve treatment options for individuals suffering from heroin and opioid addiction; measures to strengthen penalties and put in place additional tools for law enforcement to crack down on the distribution of illegal drugs; provisions to ensure the proper and safe use of naloxone; and support for enhanced public awareness campaigns to prevent drug abuse.

This legislation adds to the State's comprehensive efforts to combat the rise of heroin use. Last week Governor Cuomo announced a series of new initiatives including the addition of 100 experienced investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team; new efforts to make supplies of naloxone, an overdose antidote, available to all first responder units in the State; and the launch of a targeted awareness campaign that will take place on all public college and university campuses. In 2011, the Governor signed the “Good Samaritan 911 law" to protect individuals who seek medical assistance for a person experiencing a drug overdose or other life-threatening medical emergency from prosecution and arrest for certain drug crimes.

"Heroin abuse is a public health crisis in the state of New York, and a top priority for the end of session was to reach an agreement on an effective bill to combat this epidemic. Today I am proud to say that together, we have achieved that," Governor Cuomo said. “By introducing tougher laws and new programs to protect all New Yorkers – especially the youngest in our communities, who represent a frightening share of heroin victims – we are taking an aggressive stance to fight the dangers of drug abuse. Combined with the other actions our administration is taking, including nearly doubling the size of the State Police’s narcotics enforcement arm and training SUNY and CUNY personnel to administer anti-overdose medication, this bill furthers the thorough and comprehensive approach we need to crack down on this growing epidemic. I commend the legislative leaders and their colleagues who helped forge this agreement, and I urge the full legislature to pass it and join us on a measure that truly will save lives.”

Senate Majority Co-Leader Dean Skelos said, "With this agreement, New York State will take swift and decisive action to combat the growing heroin epidemic that has taken root in many of our communities. This comprehensive approach will ensure treatment for those affected and give law enforcement the tools they need to get heroin and opioids off of our streets. I thank Senator Boyle, who deserves much of the credit for highlighting this issue in his role as Chairman of the Senate's Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction at 18 forums conducted throughout New York State. Passage of this legislation will protect families from this scourge on our communities and save countless lives."

Senate Majority Co-Leader Jeff Klein said, "Heroin continues to steal the souls and rob the bodies of too many of our young people throughout this state. As heroin abuse and addiction, as well as crime related to its use continue to rise, it is essential that we take aggressive action to protect our families, strengthen our communities, and most importantly save lives. This package takes the mindful, comprehensive action necessary to stem the tide of more pain and destruction."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "We must do all we can to end the scourge of heroin and opioid addiction which is devastating so many lives and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people aged 12 and older who have used heroin increased from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012. Earlier this year the Assembly held a series of roundtables that brought together a wide range of advocates and stakeholders to explore the issues surrounding addiction and abuse and to discuss solutions. I am pleased that we have developed a comprehensive package that incorporates extensive education and awareness efforts to stop substance abuse before it starts and provides the necessary tools to make a difference for families and our communities."

Senator Diane Savino said, "The epidemic of heroin use and abuse has devastated families across Staten Island. It is a dark and painful substance that drags our teenagers far away from the happy and purposeful life they deserve. I applaud the Governor for recognizing that New York State needs to step in now to save more of our young people before it's too late."

Senator Phil Boyle, Chair of the Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, said, "Today marks the beginning of the end of the heroin epidemic in our state. I would like to thank the Senate Majority Coalition leadership, and all of my colleagues on the Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. The efforts put forth clearly made a difference in the quality of legislation presented. Governor Cuomo, and the Assembly leadership should be commended for agreeing on this comprehensive package of bills which will serve as the basis for combatting this heroin and opioid crisis which has caused immeasurable tragedy and suffering to New York families. Those that should be held at the highest esteem though are the people of New York who shared their personal stories, insight and tragedies to assist us in the creation of this life saving legislative package. You are the true unsung heroes of this Task Force."

Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of the Assembly Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee said, "The alarming rise in heroin and opiate abuse we're seeing in New York State demands the kind of collaborative and multi-level response we're delivering today. This is a war we're waging against an insidious enemy, and we've seen too many casualties to sit back and let the heartbreak continue. Hard work went into crafting this package, and it will take additional hard work and continued vigilance to ensure that we meet our obligation to address the heroin and opiate crisis from all angles and with appropriate treatment for all who need it."

Heroin is a highly addictive narcotic, with users representing a variety of ages, races and other backgrounds. Fatal overdose, the contraction of Hepatitis C and/or HIV and addiction and dependence are among a plethora of negative side effects that can result from heroin use. In addition to physical danger, heroin use threatens a user’s social ties – often straining family bonds, friendships and professional relationships.

Across the nation, heroin abuse has been increasing at dangerously high rates in recent years. In 2013, there were 89,269 cases of heroin and prescription opiate treatment admissions in New York State alone, an increase from 63,793 in 2004. During this same time period, the drug also disproportionately impacted New Yorkers ranging in age from 18 to 24. Nationally, as many as 467,000 people were reportedly abusing heroin or suffering from heroin dependence in 2012.

The package of bills includes the following provisions:

Improved Measures to Support Addiction Treatment: The legislation includes the following provisions to help support treatment of individuals with substance addiction problems:

  • Enables individuals requiring treatment to have access to an expedited appeals process and ensures that they are not denied care while the appeals process is underway.
  • Improves access to care by requiring insurers to use recognized, evidence-based and peer-reviewed clinical review criteria, approved by the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), when making decisions regarding the medical necessity of treatment. This will require insurers to consistently cover the appropriate level of treatment for patients suffering from substance use disorders.
  • Ensures medical necessity decisions are made by medical professionals who specialize in behavioral health and substance use.
  • Creates a new demonstration program aimed at designing a new model of care that would divert patients who do not need in-hospital detoxification, but still need treatment, to appropriate services and facilities. This program would provide alternative short term community based treatment, avoiding unnecessary emergency room costs as well as enabling OASAS to study the effectiveness of the new approaches to address the needs of individuals suffering with substance addiction.
  • Directs OASAS to create a wraparound services demonstration program to provide services to adolescents and adults for up to nine months after the successful completion of a treatment program. These services would be in the form of case management services that address education, legal, financial, social, childcare, and other supports. These services will help former patients improve their quality of life and greatly reduce the likelihood of relapse.
  • Provides that young people alleged to be suffering from a substance use disorder – which could make the youth a danger to himself or herself or others – can be assessed by an OASAS certified provider as part of Person In Need of Supervision (PINS) diversion services.

New Penalties to Help Crack Down on Illegal Drug Distribution: The legislation includes the following provisions to enable the State and law enforcement to better crack down on the distribution of heroin, opioids, and illegal prescription drugs:

  • Creates a new crime in the penal code of “fraud and deceit related to controlled substances” to crack down on doctor shopping, criminalizing behavior by those individuals who obtain or attempt to obtain a controlled substance or a prescription by misrepresenting themselves as a doctor or pharmacist, or presenting a forged prescription.
  • Adds the “criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance or of a controlled substance by a practitioner or pharmacist” as a designated offense for purposes of obtaining eavesdropping warrants as well as adding the offense as a “criminal act” for the purposes of prosecuting enterprise corruption cases. These small but significant reforms will give law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to utilize eavesdropping warrants to further fully investigate crimes involving the distribution of controlled substances, as well as empower law enforcement to further prosecute organized activity related to prescription drug trafficking in New York State.
  • Grants the Department of Health (DOH)’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement expanded access to criminal histories to aid its investigations of rogue prescribers and dispensers.
  • Increases the penalties for the criminal sale of a controlled substance by a pharmacist or practitioner by making the crime a class C felony.

Informational Cards in Naloxone Anti-Overdose Kits to Help Save Lives: The legislation includes the following provision to ensure the proper use of naloxone – an overdose antidote - when administered:

  • Requires that every naloxone anti-overdose kit include informational cards with the important information on how to recognize symptoms of an overdose; what steps to take, including calling first responders; and how to access services through OASAS.

Expanded Public Education Campaigns to Prevent Opioid and Heroin Use: The legislation includes the following provisions to expand public awareness campaigns to help educate New Yorkers – particularly students and young people – about the dangers of opioid and heroin use:

  • Directs OASAS to undertake a public awareness and educational campaign utilizing public forums, media (social and mass) and advertising to educate youth, parents, healthcare professionals and others about the risks associated with heroin and opioids, how to recognize signs of addiction and the resources available to deal with these issues.
  • Directs the State Education Commissioner to update the drug abuse curriculum every three years so that students have the most current and up-to-date information on coping with drug abuse and other substance abuse problems.

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