The New York State Senate today passed four bills that are part of its ongoing commitment to addressing the challenges created by the ongoing heroin and opioid crisis. Last week, the Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction released a comprehensive report with recommendations – which includes bills voted upon today – that would help improve prevention efforts, increase access to treatment, expand recovery options and, provide greater resources to law enforcement to aid in combating this crisis.
In its report, the Task Force identified a four-pronged approach that would stem the growth of the heroin and opioid crisis – prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. Three of the bills passed today focus on recovery to provide the proper supports such as safe environments, stable employment, and opportunities to participate in diversion programs that avoid incarceration in order to facilitate successful recoveries from addiction. The other bill would help prevent the spread of heroin by criminalizing its transportation within New York. They include:
· Expanding access to judicial diversion programs - S6322A, sponsored by Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst): Permits persons otherwise eligible to participate in alcohol or substance abuse treatment diversion programs to utilize programs in the district in which they reside. This bill will empower courts to allow - at their discretion - an eligible defendant to participate in a diversion program near his or her home, expand the number of defendants who can participate in such programs, and increase positive outcomes for these defendants and their families.
Senator Ranzenhofer said, “Court diversion programs play an important role, as an effective treatment option, in reducing future criminal activity. This bill would allow courts, at their discretion, to permit an eligible person to participate in a program near his or her home. Ultimately, this new option for courts will lead to more positive outcomes for people with substance abuse issues and their families.”
· Encouraging employment of recovering users - S2346, sponsored by Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta): Provides a tax credit for employers who agree to hire individuals who have either graduated from drug court or have successfully completed a judicial diversion program. For individuals in recovery, a critical piece of the rebuilding process is the ability to find gainful employment. Unfortunately, convincing employers to hire someone who has a history of addiction is a challenge. This bill seeks to incentivize the hiring of individuals recovering from addiction.
Senator Seward said, “A job is more than just a paycheck for someone in recovery. It is a symbol of self-worth and a validation that others are showing confidence in that individual’s abilities. Employment is also a key incentive that will help motivate an addict to stay clean. By offering this tax credit, I am hopeful that more employers will show faith in people who are trying to rebuild their lives and have earned a second chance.”
· Enacting the Wraparound Services Demonstration Program - S7748A, sponsored by Senator David Carlucci (D, Rockland/Westchester): Requires the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to enact the wraparound services demonstration program as required by Chapter 32 of the Laws of 2014. The results would be used to create best practices for recovery services to be implemented by every provider of services in order to obtain certification by the Office. The demonstration program would 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. Providing these services will help former patients improve their quality of life and greatly reduce the likelihood of relapse.
Senator Carlucci said, “Heroin addiction does not discriminate - this is not an upstate or downstate, suburban or urban issue. This is a New York State and national issue, and we must lead the way in combating this crisis. That is why extending the wraparound services program is vital. We must insure that those who are struggling can utilize this life-saving comprehensive program to get the help they need. Today, I am proud to work with my colleagues in the Senate to pass these bills to combat the heroin epidemic.”
· Criminalizing the Transport of an Opiate-Controlled Substance – S608, sponsored by Senator Phil Boyle (R-C-I, Suffolk County): Makes it a crime to move opiate controlled substances within the state, regardless of weight. Downstate, heroin sells for as little as $6-$10 a bag, where in upstate communities, that same bag will sell for as much as $30-$50 a bag. The lure of higher profits incentivizes many drug dealers to travel far distances to sell heroin. Under current law, both sale and possession are criminal offenses. By criminalizing the unlawful transport of these dangerous and addictive substances, law enforcement will have an additional tool to prosecute dealers, especially those who travel far distances to increase their profits. Individuals, organizations, and companies authorized to possess an opiate controlled substance by prescription, license, or other legal means would be exempt.
Senator Boyle said, “This bill differentiates between individuals who are traveling with opiates for personal, medicinal reasons from those who are transporting the drug for the criminal purpose of selling them. Those with authorized possession of opiates by prescription, license, or other means within the authority of the law are exempt; but those who are traveling around to willfully sell and potentially cause harm to another person should know that their actions will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
The bills have been sent to the Assembly.