Assembly Readies its Own Heroin Legislation as Legislative Session Winds Down

Assembly Readies its Own Heroin Legislation as Legislative Session Winds Down

Assembly Readies Heroin Legislation as Session Winds Down
June 17, 2014

The Assembly may still introduce its own comprehensive package of legislation to combat heroin abuse, leaving uncertain the fate of the state Senate’s own 23-bill package and raising questions about whether heroin legislation can get done before sessions ends Thursday.

Last week, City & State reported both houses were making heroin legislation a top priority as the session winds down, but several Senate bills emphasizing stricter penalties faced opposition in the Assembly.

“So far, the Assembly package is going to include some things the Senate package doesn’t really stress,” Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said on Tuesday. “A lot of their package is penal in nature—not that [the Assembly] objects to criminal penalties here, but we’ve been there and we’ve don’t that with heroin addiction in the past and we’ve created the most draconian drug laws in the United States of America.”

Lentol said Assembly staff is working on a separate package of bills to combat heroin abuse and plans to introduce the package “any day now.”

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who chairs the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, confirmed there were “discussions going on regarding a heroin package.”

Last week, Cymbrowitz told City & State that the Assembly would not introduce a heroin package of its own.

Lentol said that the Assembly would still want its legislative package to be voted on and passed before session ends. To be pass in time, the bills would have to be introduced Tuesday night so they could be voted on Friday—if the session is extended an extra day—or require a rare message of necessity from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It remains unclear if Cuomo would issue a message of necessity, but the governor said during an interview Tuesday on “The Capitol Pressroom” that heroin is one of three legislative priorities that he wants to complete before session ends Thursday.

“I already took action on my own with more state police, et cetera, but I really would like to get a heroin bill done,” Cuomo said.

The governor also said that heroin legislation was in the “language stage,” and that the last issue being debated was an insurance mandate to cover substance abuse treatment that some senators had been pushing.

The Senate and Assembly seem poised to pass a bill that would make substance abuse services more affordable and increase awareness of the proper disposal of prescription drugs, but it is unclear whether the Assembly will pass the other bills approved in the Senate last week.   

A bill introduced in both the Assembly and Senate would amend state insurance and public health law to require insurance coverage for diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse. It would also create a “review agent” to look into the process in which patients can appeal an insurance company’s decision to deny substance abuse treatment coverage, and would require continuing coverage through the appeals process—an issue that lawmakers have said is one of their top goals.

The bill has passed in the Senate and the identical bill in the Assembly was amended and re-printed Monday night.

Another bill that aims to increase public awareness on the proper disposal of drugs and the location of disposal sites has passed the Senate and then the Assembly and was sent back to the Senate last week.

Several other bills passed by the Senate seem less likely to pass.

A bill that would encourage the pharmaceutical industry to make pills less addictive passed the Senate, but on Monday the Senate recalled the bill from the Assembly and the measure is now being reconsidered.

Another bill, which would require doctors to continue education on pain management, palliative care and addiction, has passed the Senate but faces some opposition in the Assembly. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick said that she is concerned with the bill language because there has never been legislation that dictates the curriculum for licensed professionals and that she is hesitant to support legislation that does.

“There are a lot of details about it that we’re just looking at, but I am concerned about the issues,” Glick said. “I don’t know if there isn’t a family in New York that hasn’t had some experience with a friend or family member [who has abused opioid substances]. I am among those, so I am well ware of the overmedication and ‘doc-shopping.’ I-STOP has made a real impact on that.”

I-STOP is a prescription-monitoring program which doctors are required to check before prescribing controlled substances. The program aims to prevent drug seekers from attaining drugs by lying to doctors and monitors doctors’ prescription habits for abuse.

Lentol touted the I-STOP program as well and said any Assembly package would include legislation expanding the program. He reiterated that an Assembly package would focus on treatment and prevention—not penalties.

“We have to handle the epidemic. How do we handle it? With treatment,” Lentol said. “Treatment is the way to cure people, not putting them in jail.”

With reporting by Jon Lentz

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Ashley Hupfl