Senate passes anti-heroin measures but there’s still debate

Pete Dzintars/via flickr
June 10, 2014

This week, the State Senate passed 23 bills to deal with the rise of heroin use in the state. The bills increase access to drug treatment and tracking of prescriptions. But some senators voted against a handful of the bills.

Twelve of the twenty-three bills passed unanimously. The Senate gave its full support to a bill that requires insurance companies to cover substance abuse treatment programs and another one that explores the possibility of turning former jails into recovery centers.

But some senators thought other bills focused too much on punishing addicts instead of treating them.

Manhattan Democrat Liz Krueger voted against many of the bills that increased punishment for heroin possession. Under one such bill, possession of $300 worth of heroin could bring a 1 to 9 year jail sentence.

“I cannot, in good faith, support bills that simply change the language of what kind of drug we’re talking about and put us back 40 years to the discussions about re-implementing a failed series of drug policies for the state,” says Krueger.

In April and May, a Senate task force traveled the state to discuss the mounting heroin problem with law enforcement officials and addiction treatment providers. Those discussions led to this package of legislation.

Task force member, Republican Jack Martins, says he agrees that heroin addiction should be de-stigmatized, but voted in favor of the harsher penalties.

“There is one place where we shouldn’t turn our backs. There is one place where we should not hesitant. And that’s where people are dealing drugs and specifically to areas where people are selling death to our children,” says Martins.

The debate has now moved to the Assembly. According to a statement from Binghamton-area Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, the Assembly will develop its own package of bills and will work with the Senate to form the final legislation.

Its unclear at this point whether that will happen before the legislative session ends next week.