View from the Assembly: The heroin epidemic

By state Assemblyman Will Barclay

 We’ve seen many cases in recent months of heroin use and overdoses.

It has become a public health epidemic. The stories are sad and often tragic. 

Overdose rates have increased substantially. Deaths from heroin overdoses in New York more than doubled from 215 in 2008 to 478 in 2012. The local media reports stories of heroin use or sale on a regular basis. Some are worse than others.

Just this month, a mother was found in her car after she overdosed from heroin. Two young children were in the car with her at the time. Countless others have been arrested for possession and dealing.

Both the Senate and the Assembly held hearings across the state to listen to testimony, which includes personal stories from recovering drug addicts to first responders. A number of bills introduced this session attempt to address how to respond to this serious and rampant problem.

 One possible solution is to get a better coordinated effort to reducing prescription drugs in the house. I support laws that increase public awareness on the proper disposal of drugs and drug disposal sites.

Studies show that nearly one third of people aged 12 and over that used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically. The same survey found that more than 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives and most likely these drugs were taken from a household medicine cabinet.

One measure being proposed (A1609) would allow the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to better assist in education efforts and allow other agencies such as the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health to coordinate collections and dispose of the drugs.

Local law enforcement and drug store owners hold these events already, but this is an area where the state can lend its resources to raise public awareness.

We need to increase penalties for theft of controlled substances to better protect pharmacies. There has been in increase in crimes against pharmacies nationwide.

Between 2006 and 2010, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, pharmacy robberies rose from 380 to 686. In New York state, the number rose from 4 to 30 within the same time period.

A2310 would make theft of any controlled substance a felony.

I support a measure that would establish harsher criminal penalties for the theft of blank official New York state prescription forms (A3744). We should also establish harsher penalties for sale of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a drug or alcohol treatment center or methadone clinic. I also support efforts to provide better access to drug treatment.

Two years ago, the state passed I-STOP — the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing – Prescription Monitoring Program. This proved to be effective against the doctor shopping that was taking place whereby patients were traveling from doctor to doctor to obtain prescription drugs.

I-STOP required pharmacies and doctors to register controlled substance prescriptions. This was a good measure, and I was happy to support it, as nearly 15,000 people die each year due to prescription drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.

In 1999 from 2010, the number of opioids being prescribed more than quadrupled. Some say the I-STOP law pushed many who were already addicted to prescription medication to the underground drug market, as heroin apparently shares many qualities with opioids.

Hopefully with increased awareness and improved education, the statistics will improve and we can reduce the overdose rates.

If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling 598-5185.

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