As heroin abuse and overdoses continue to grow in epic proportions, it's time New York approached the problem with equal vigor by toughening our laws on the sale and distribution of the drug.
In the waning days of the state legislative session, more than a dozen bills have been adopted by the state Senate to combat the epidemic, including one that would charge heroin dealers with homicide if one of their customers dies from an overdose.
One bill (S4163/A6039), sponsored by Fonda state Sen. George Amedore and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker of Queens, would create an A-1 felony charge for the sale of an opiate controlled substance that results in the death of the user. That could bring a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.
Another bill (S0608) sponsored by Long Island Sen. Phil Boyle would help authorities curb the transport of the drug within the state — specifically by a distance of more than 5 miles within the state or between counties — by creating a charge of transport of an opiate controlled substance. The corridor between Canada and New York City that passes through our area is a major route for transporting and distributing the drug. The first-degree charge would be a B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Other bills that are pending would lower the threshold for what constitutes an amount of the drug that could result in charging someone as a seller. That would allow police to arrest more people who deal in small amounts of the drug. A fourth bill expands the definition of who can be charged as a major trafficker.
All this legislation is designed to discourage people from moving the drug and to help get more heroin dealers off the streets and into prisons for longer periods of time.
Passage of these bills is imperative.
From 2008 to 2012, according to the New York State Senate Democrat Conference report on the heroin addiction crisis, the percentage of drug-related deaths related to heroin doubled from 13 percent to nearly 26 percent. As a percentage of overdose deaths compared to alcohol, cocaine, meth and other drugs, heroin now ranks number 1.
Much of the impact is on our young adults, those age 18-24. The drug is in all counties and it's affecting all residents.
The state has rightly been investing in abuse treatment and in Narcan kits that can be used on the scene of an overdose to prevent deaths. But law enforcement also needs the tools to get the purveyors of heroin off the street.
If the Legislature decides to pass anything in the next few days, these potentially life-saving bills should be at the top of its list.