Brooklyn lawmakers served on panel
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An eye-opening report released Wednesday by the New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction recommends that the state take a series of measures to combat drug addiction, including limiting prescriptions for pain killers to a 10-day supply, making a drug overdose antidote more readily available, and increasing anti-drug education programs in junior high and high schools.
Three Brooklyn state senators, Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn), Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park-Midwood), and Diane Savino (D-Bensonhurst-Staten Island) were members of the panel. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) was the task force’s chairman.
The task force was put together in March by the New York State Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leaders, Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein, to examine the alarming rise in use of heroin and prescription drugs, also known as opioids, that has claimed lives and hurt families across the state.
Task force members held 18 forums at various locations around the state in an attempt to get a better understanding of the problem.
At hearing after hearing, parents told harrowing stories about young people addicted to opioids, law enforcement officials testified that they needed stronger tools to prevent criminals from putting more deadly drugs on the streets, medical professionals urged lawmakers to treat opioid addiction as a disease, and recovering addicts advocated for more treatment options.
“There is no doubt in my mind that prescription drug abuse, and heroin overdoses, are among the most significant problems of our time facing New York,” Golden said. “We have lost too many lives and we cannot, and will not, let this epidemic continue to destroy families.”
As a result of the hearings, the task force is recommending sweeping changes. In its report, the panel listed 25 separate pieces of legislation for the full senate to consider during the legislative session.
One bill would limit prescriptions for drugs treating acute pain to a 10-day supply to prevent excess pharmaceuticals from being dispensed. The restriction would not apply to the treatment of cancer pain, chronic pain, or palliative care.
Another bill would ensure that schools would be allowed to have the drug overdose antidote Naloxone to use in emergencies. Schools using the antidote would be protected from lawsuits by state’s Good Samaritan Law. The bill also calls for Naloxone kits to be distributed through an opioid overdose prevention program. The kits would include an informational card with instructions on steps to take following administration, as well as information on how to access addiction treatment and support services.
The task force also called age-appropriate information about the dangers of illegal drug use to be taught to junior high school and high school health classes.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, nearly 70 percent of people who first abuse prescription drugs get the pills from a friend or relative.
Newsday reported that the task force is also recommending that shuttered state prisons be converted into treatment centers and that steps be taken to cut the bureaucracy to allow addicts to be enrolled in inpatient treatment centers faster.
Addiction doesn’t just hurt the addict, Felder said. “An addict in the throes of an addiction destroys not only their health and their futures, but the lives of their family and friends as well. For every addict who doesn’t get the help they need, there is a progressive breakdown in the fabric of society-at-large,” he said.
Savino said the task force found that Staten Island is “Ground Zero” for heroin and prescription drug addiction in the state, with large numbers of young people in that borough turning to drugs. “It is my hope this task force and its report will lead to action that will prevent deaths like the ones we have endured on Staten Island and across the state,” she said.