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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
ALBANY, Aug. 26-- I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to believe that another summer’s coming to a close and our kids are getting ready to go back to school. It’s always a time of year when our hopes –and fears – for the future of our children rise to the surface.
Last week in this column, I offered the first in a series of “Agenda 2014” columns over the next few weeks to pinpoint challenges and legislation that I’ll keep pushing. I began with the upstate economy and some of the steps still needed, in my view, to make a difference on long-term job security for our workers and their families.
This week, I’m turning my attention to another critical quality of life issue for local communities: illegal drugs and drug trafficking, especially methamphetamine and heroin. A “quick poll” on my Senate website (www.omara.nysenate.gov) asks the following question: “Is the spread of illegal drugs and drug trafficking, including meth and heroin, one of the region's top concerns?” It’s drawn a pretty strong response so far -- over 90% of poll respondents have answered “yes.”
That’s not surprising. I’ve written repeatedly over the past few years that it seems like there’s another meth-related bust or lab discovery every week somewhere in the region. Now we’re hearing from regional law enforcement and drug treatment professionals about the increasing presence of heroin. There’s just no denying that we’re witnessing a disturbing rise across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions in the incidents of drug-related addiction, violence and tragedy. It continues to draw federal and statewide alarm, as well it should.
Can we take additional steps to help? I’ve been stressing the need for emphasizing a three-pronged response: Awareness. Education. Enforcement.
Tougher laws and law enforcement are an important part of the answer. Earlier this year the State Senate approved, with strong bipartisan support, legislation I sponsor to further outlaw the operation of clandestine meth labs (S.3639), and legislation I cosponsor (S.4652) to enhance the ability of local police and district attorneys to track and prosecute violations of restrictions on over-the-counter sales of cold medications that are key ingredients used in the manufacturing of meth The state Assembly, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver, has failed to give their okay to these measures, which are supported by our local Assemblymen Palmesano, Friend and Nojay. It’s just one more example of the liberal, New York City-centered control of the Assembly. So I’ll continue to push these actions in 2014.
But ongoing public awareness and education are equally important. I recently noted that the Ithaca PD has set up a narcotics tip line for the public: 607-330-0000. In Hornell, Police Chief Murray has offered an email address to achieve similar goals (Tip@cityofhornell.com).
Yates County District Attorney Jason Cook recently outlined for me and addressed the Yates County Legislature on the increasing prevalence of drug-related cases his office is engaged with, particularly hard-core street drugs like heroin. The consequences are enormous: higher rates of other felony crimes including crimes involving weapons, violence, drug-impaired driving tragedies, and an overall decline in the sense of community safety and security.
“Nothing is more dangerous to public safety or destroys the fabric of society more than drugs,” District Attorney Cook wrote. “It is clear that when crime increases, the quality of life in a community decreases…We have worked aggressively with the Penn Yan PD, Sheriff’s Department and the (State Police) to attack, prosecute and investigate these drug dealers wherever they are. Parents and grandparents certainly have a right to expect that their children and grandchildren can play safely and go to school or day care without a drug deal going down next door. Citizens, taxpayers and tourists certainly have a right to walk our streets free from concerns about drug dealers and crime.”
So the first and, in so many ways, most important line of defense against illicit drug use and drug trafficking is public awareness, cooperation and education. On this front, regional district attorneys, police and sheriff’s departments, and other law enforcement agencies continue to perform outstanding service.
To those caught in the terrible spiral of drug abuse and addiction, we need to let them know that there are ways out and treatment is available.
But maybe most critical of all, in my view, is the consistent message we keep sending to our young people about the dangers of substance abuse, in all its forms. The dangers and endless pitfalls associated with illegal drugs should never be taken lightly or dismissed out of hand. Too often the abuse of one drug leads to the abuse of another, more addictive, dangerous and destructive substance.
So the word needs to keep going out. Every time I read or hear about another local drug-related arrest or tragedy, it’s hard not to think of another life gone astray or destroyed by the vicious cycle of drug addiction and violence.
That’s a tough thought to keep in mind as our young people head back to the classroom, but it may very well be one of the most important lessons we can share on their behalf.
Combating illegal drugs and drug trafficking just might offer the most meaningful work we can undertake for the safety and security of our kids.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869