Senate moves on bills to restrict access to opioids, increase penalties for dealers

A Senate bill would put tighter restrictions on the production and sales of synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil in New York.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan held a press conference Tuesday with the New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin to announce a package of bills to address the urgent drug epidemic sweeping the state.

The 14-bill package seeks to strengthen New York state law, increasing penalties for drug dealers and stepping up restrictions on the production and sales of synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil as well as expanding legislation to cover more derivatives of these extremely potent opioids.

The package also includes bills for protecting minors from opiates by requiring physicians to counsel parents about the dangers of addiction, as well as limiting the length of opiate prescriptions to seven days. There is also a measure designed to extend funding to recovery services provided by for-profit companies.

“Opioid and heroin addiction is probably the biggest scourge of our time,” said Senator Flanagan. “We have to go after the bad guys. We can do everything in the world about insurance and treatment and recovery, all of which is important. But if we don’t go after the bad guys and punish them swiftly and severely, it doesn’t matter.”

The state Senate Heroin Task Force was created in 2014 and has held 18 forums across the state, listening to testimony from advocates, physicians, addicts and law enforcement. The secured the largest ever budget allocation, $214 million, this year in order to fight this growing epidemic.

“If we had sat with advocates five years ago and said we were going to make a $200 million investment,” said Flanagan. “everyone would have said ‘that’s not going to work.’ It did.”

The majority leader was critical of his colleagues in the Assembly who have been more reticent about enacting legislation that involves putting more people in jail. After proposing a similar package of bills last year, the Assembly refused to take up half of them, citing the fact that locking up low-level dealers will have little effect on the drug’s supply.

The majority leader is still confident however that, with the end of session approaching, there would still be some movement from the Assembly.

“We have stood up and stood out on these issues,” added Flanagan. “If the Assembly declines to follow suit, that’s their issue.”