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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Getting serious about heroin"

ALBANY, June 1-- “Regardless of social status, geographic location, age or personal wealth, this epidemic has touched the lives of people in every corner of the State.”

That’s just one conclusion coming out of the New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction’s just-released report, "Solutions to New York’s Heroin Epidemic," but it’s a critically on-target conclusion. No community, no family, no individual life is immune from this threat.

Urban or rural, rich or poor, young or older, we’ve certainly learned that heroin addiction knows no boundaries. The rise of illegal drugs and drug trafficking – especially meth and heroin – represents one of the most urgent challenges facing the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. It threatens to overwhelm individual lives, as well as local systems of health care, social services, and law enforcement.

It’s a risk we can’t ignore, and we’re not. The Senate created its joint, bipartisan Task Force earlier this year to examine, in depth, the growing heroin crisis across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide. After holding 18 public forums covering virtually every corner of New York since early April, including one in Elmira in mid-May, listening to more than 50 hours of testimony, and hearing from over 200 expert panelists, the Task Force has released a comprehensive report detailing the hearings and proposing a set of legislative proposals for action.

We heard testimony from regional law enforcement officers and leaders, drug addiction counselors, treatment providers, educators, social services and mental health professionals, and other experts -- as well as recovering addicts and family members -- about the range of complex challenges posed by heroin including addiction prevention and treatment options, drug-related crimes, and other community and public safety impacts.

For example, we learned that heroin-related calls to the Upstate Poison Center surged by more than 400% between 2009 and 2013, including 23 heroin-related overdose calls in the Southern Tier last year.

Common threads emerged and made it clear that this crisis demands a three-pronged response: 1.) law enforcement, 2.) public awareness and education, and 3.) prevention and treatment. So that’s what we’re proposing in our legislative strategy: stricter criminal penalties, especially for traffickers; the creation of an aggressive, statewide “Heroin and Prescription Opioid Pain Medication Addiction Awareness and Education Program”; heightened prevention initiatives and programs; and new models for treatment, including key insurance reforms.

You can find the report (which is in the process of being amended to include more detailed information on the Elmira hearing and the Task Force’s other, more recent forums) and a comprehensive summary of legislation on my Senate website, (click on the Task Force icon in the left-hand column of the home page).

The need for a number of the final proposals was reinforced at the Elmira forum, including one measure highlighted by supporters of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility that’s slated for closure by the Cuomo administration later this summer, which would direct the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to study the feasibility of converting closed correctional facilities to provide treatment for substance use disorders.

I’ll conclude with two key points.

First, we appreciate the local, grassroots input. As the report states, “As New York State government maintains its focus on preventing opioid abuse and overdoses, increasing the availability and efficacy of addiction treatment, and enhancing the tools provided to law enforcement to keep heroin off the streets, the Task Force would like to thank the family members, law enforcement personnel, local officials, educators, addiction recovery specialists, and recovering addicts who are on the ground, battling drug addiction on a daily basis.”

That’s point No. 1: the people on the front lines battling this crisis deserve our collective gratitude, and respect.

Point No. 2 is this: we need to act. This urgency to respond was noted by a representative of the Ithaca Police Department, who said: “Heroin is much more devastating than other drugs simply because when you go from recreational use to addiction to destruction, that cycle rears its ugly head much faster and with much more intensity than other drugs.”

The Senate will move forward in the remaining weeks of this legislative session, and we’ll be doing whatever we can to encourage the bipartisan support that’s going to be needed to enact new laws.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

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: Gary Whyman, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869