As Westchester Confronts Heroin Scourge, Treatment Options Increase

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WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – As Westchester continues to confront the heroin epidemic, a series of bills intended to combat the problem have passed the New York State Legislature, but some law enforcement officials say it doesn’t go far enough.

There have been 90 drug overdose deaths in Westchester in the last year, with several involving heroin.

Across the state, 89,269 sought treatment for heroin and prescription drug addiction in 2013, up from 63,793 in 2004.

James Hunt, federal Drug Enforcement Agency special agent-in-charge  said his division has seized more heroin in the first five months of 2014 than all of 2013, and 110 percent more than in all of 2009.

“The Mexican drug trafficking organizations are flooding the Northeast market with heroin, leaving tragic overdose deaths in the cartel’s wakes,” he said.

The 11 bills passed recently by the state Assembly and Senate last week includes insurance reforms to improve treatment options, provisions to supply all first responders with naxolone, an overdose antidote, an awareness campaign and stricter penalties for distribution of illegal drugs.

On the last point, the bills try to crack down on doctor shopping and forging prescriptions and empower law enforcement to target organized prescription drug trafficking. It makes the criminal sale of a controlled substance by a pharmacist or practitioner a class C felony.

However, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says this doesn’t go far enough. An earlier bill that passed the state Senate and failed in the Assembly had provisions for enhanced sentencing, which would make the sale of narcotics a class A-1 felony, punishable by 25 years-to-life.

In a recent case, two men were accused of selling heroin, some laced with fentanyl, which killed three people within two months.

Law enforcement investigating the case decided to partner with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to prosecute them under federal law because New York State law allows those convicted of selling narcotics to be sentenced to drug diversion programs, county jail or probation.

“Such sentences, under these facts, are simply outrageous and unacceptable,” said Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady, who helped prosecute the case.

He went on to say that, "Drug dealers continue to sell because the financial reward far outweighs the punitive risk."

Read more about the bills passed by the state Senate and Assembly here and watch Gov. Andrew Cuomo speak about them here

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