North Country Sen. Griffo endorses report with comprehensive recommendations to battle heroin, opioid addiction
Friday, May 20, 2016 - 2:58 pm

The New York State Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, whose members include two of the three senators representing St. Lawrence County, has released a report summarizing its findings and recommendations to address what they call the state’s ongoing heroin epidemic.

The report includes several legislative recommendations to address what they see as shortcomings in the state’s existing opioid prevention and treatment-delivery strategies.

Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, whose district includes the St. Lawrence County towns of Massena, Brasher, Norfolk, Stockholm, Potsdam, Pierrepont, Russell, Clifton, Fine, and Pitcairn, says the situation is only getting worse.

“Heroin addiction knows no boundaries, and communities all across the Mohawk Valley and throughout the North Country have been tragically impacted by the breadth of this crisis. The heroin addicts’ desperation for help is only worsening, and every day families grieve over yet another loved one lost from overdose. We must ensure that these individuals did not die in vain by doing everything we can to defeat this epidemic with greater prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement measures. Through the work of the Senate Heroin Task Force, every heartbreaking story has helped identify the issues that are allowing this scourge to persist, and so now we must act on these legislative solutions to save our communities.”

Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, whose represents the western half of St. Lawrence County including Ogdensburg, Canton and Gouverneur, is also a member of the task force.

In the report released this week, the task force devised a four-pronged approach to stem the growth of the heroin and opioid crisis and support those headed to recovery but still battling their addiction:

• Prevention: increasing awareness to better educate the public of the inherent risks involved in using heroin and prescription opioids, and taking advantage of technological advances available to deter the abuse of prescription drugs and prevent addiction.

• Treatment: recognizing the critical need for expanded and improved insurance coverage, and enhancing access to all forms of effective treatment – including inpatient, outpatient, and Medication Assisted Treatment – in order to help individuals return to stable and productive lives

• Recovery: providing the proper supports, such as safe environments, stable employment, and opportunities to participate in diversion programs that avoid incarceration in order to facilitate successful recoveries from addiction

• Enforcement: implementing criminal justice reforms that give law enforcement the necessary tools to disrupt the supply of heroin and stop the diversion of opiate prescription medications within the state.

After speaking with stakeholders in communities across the state, then task force drew up recommendations they believe will create an effective, multi-faceted, and comprehensive approach to addressing many of the issues raised by the state’s opioid crisis.

They are recommending the legislative actions relating to the “four prongs” noted above:


· Limiting initial prescriptions of controlled substances

· Creating a Prescription Pain Medication Awareness Program

· Enhancing patient access to abuse-deterrent technology for opioids

· Ensuring proper opioid education to prescribed patients

· Establishing a Narcan kit registry

· Providing instruction of mental health, alcohol, drug and tobacco use in junior and senior high schools

· Requiring patient counseling prior to issuing a prescription for a schedule II opioid

· Increasing availability of naloxone

· Requiring the state Department of Health (DOH) and the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to examine and report on the underreported and at-risk populations, including but not limited to Native American Tribes and the effect the heroin and opioid crisis is having on those populations.


· Continuing education for credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselors

· Removing barriers to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

· Examining insurance coverage for medications approved by the FDA for use in MAT of opioid addiction and examine the accessibility across the state to new treatment modalities

· Enhancing emergency intervention procedures

· Establishing assisted outpatient treatment for substance use disorders

· Requiring the DOH and OASAS to examine and report on the most effective treatment modalities, including ideal settings, treatment length, and best practices for heroin and opioid addiction

· Creating and appointing an Ombudsman to assist individuals and families in obtaining appropriate insurance coverage for treatment services

· Requiring all OASAS-certified treatment providers to inform individuals receiving treatment and their families of their right to file an external appeal with the Department of Financial Services (DFS) and provide them with the means necessary to access such appeal

· Requiring DOH and DFS to rigorously scrutinize the implementation of any conditions placed on accessing treatment


· Including for-profit providers in the Request for Proposals Process for substance use disorder and gambling programs

· Creating a Sober Living Task Force

· Expanding treatment options for judicial diversion participants

· Expanding access to judicial diversion programs

· Encouraging employment of recovering users

· Enacting the Wraparound Services Demonstration Program

· Requiring DOH and OASAS to examine and report on vital statistics related to heroin and opioid addiction, including relapse rate, length of treatment, and what, if any, follow up care supports are in place upon discharge


· Enhancing penalties for the sale of controlled substances on park grounds and playgrounds, this bill passed the Senate on March 1

· Facilitating the conviction of drug dealers

· Expanding the crime of operating as a major trafficker

· Creating Drug-Free Zones around drug or alcohol treatment centers and methadone clinics

· Establishing appropriate penalties as it relates to heroin sales

· Enhancing judicial access to juvenile records for determining judicial diversion program eligibility

· Adding fentanyl to the controlled substance schedule

· Establishing Xylazine as a controlled substance

· Creating the crime of homicide by sale of an opioid controlled substance

· Developing a formula to dispense funds acquired from the seizure of assets used in the commission of drug crimes

The report highlighted this year’s state budget commitment of $166 million for heroin and opioid crisis, treatment, outpatient, and residential services. Due to advocacy by the Senate’s task force members, the budget included an increase of $25 million above the Executive Budget’s original proposal.

The report recommends that this additional $25 million would support: Family Support Navigator and Navigator training programs; On-Call Peer programs; Adolescent Clubhouses to provide safe and welcoming spaces for teens; Recovery Community and Outreach Centers; Recovery Coach peer mentoring programs; a “Combat Heroin” Public Service Campaign; Opioid Overdose Prevention program; Opioid Medication Treatment program; Transitional Housing Opportunities; Local Government Unit Block Grants; School Resource Officer Training programs; and a Wraparound Services Demonstration Program.

The full report with detailed findings and recommendations can be found at: