A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The heroin and opioid crisis has touched countless lives and ravaged families throughout the country.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 60,000 people died of a drug overdose in the U.S. in 2016, five times higher than in 1999.
That number is roughly the same amount of people who live in a mid-sized city such as Utica.
While other nearby states like Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have experienced a higher rate of death, New York is by far not immune to the epidemic.
Statistics show fatal drug overdoses have also increased in New York.
In 2016, 3,638 people died from an overdose – a 50% increase from 2014 when the reported deaths from overdose was 2,300.
The crisis is of particular concern Upstate.
According to the New York State Department of Health, opioid-related death rates both in Oswego and Onondaga counties were among the highest in the state in 2016.
The death toll is troubling and the loss of an individual life has far-reaching and long-lasting effects on family members and the entire community.
Fortunately, the state has recognized this crisis and invested more resources in treatment programs, addiction centers, prevention education, and supportive housing.
The state has also put some limits on opioid prescriptions – both by limiting the amount of opioids doctors prescribe and by limiting the number of prescriptions individuals can obtain with the I-STOP registry.
We also passed the Good Samaritan law which allows people to call 911 without fear of arrest if they or someone they know is having a drug or alcohol overdose that requires emergency medical care.
Since 2011 New York has increased heroin funding from $105 million to the current $227.7 million.
While these changes are a good start, we need to tackle this problem from all angles and pass laws that deter drug dealers.
One solution is Laree’s Law.
This bill, if enacted, would enable law enforcement to charge drug dealers with homicide if it is proven that the drugs sold by the dealer caused a death.
Currently, a heroin dealer can be charged with “criminal sale of a controlled substance” but there is nothing in state law that would allow a dealer to be charged with homicide even if selling drugs causes a death.
Enacting Laree’s Law would allow those involved with illicit drug sales to be held accountable for deaths caused by their actions.
The bill also targets dealers who bring illegal drugs across state or county lines where the sale also results in a death even if the dealer did not sell the drug directly to the person who died.
This would give law enforcement another tool to go after the mid- to high-level drug dealers.
The bill is named after Laree (pronounced luh-REE) Lincoln Farrell, a 19-year-old college student from Colonie, NY, who died as a result of a heroin overdose.
She was an honors student who graduated from high school at the age of 16 with an advanced Regents diploma.
She was involved in sports and had many friends.
She tried heroin and after one week, she knew she needed help.
She suffered with drug addiction for just four short months during which time she also went through residential treatment programs.
Unfortunately, heroin’s hold proved too great and she died of an overdose in January 2013 soon after completing a treatment program.
Since Laree’s death, Laree’s mother, Patty Farrell, has shared her family’s painful story and advocated in Albany for this law in an effort to help prevent others from having to experience the same tragedy that her family has experienced.
About 20 other states already have this type of law in place.
In a recent legislative survey completed by my office, 77% of those who responded support legislation that would allow drug dealers to be charged with homicide if the sale leads to a fatal overdose.
The State Senate has already passed this measure twice but the Democrat-controlled Assembly has not put the bill up for a vote.
I will continue to push for this legislation so that people like Laree’s mother will not have to suffer the same tragic loss.
If you have comments regarding these or other state issues, please contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by email at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.
You also can find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.