NY Senate passes bills to curb heroin scourge

(AP) -- New York's Republican-led Senate has passed nearly two dozen bills to curb heroin use, including a measure to allow schools to administer a powerful heroin and opiate antidote.

On Monday, the Senate passed 23 of the 25 bills introduced last month following a series of forums held around the state on heroin and opioid use.

"There's one place we shouldn't be lenient and we shouldn't turn our backs," said sponsoring Sen. Jack Martins, a Long Island Republican.

The legislative package seeks to limit prescriptions of opioids for acute pain and allow schools to issue naloxone, an antidote for heroin overdoses. It also creates a statewide heroin awareness program and increases penalties for selling the drug, especially on playgrounds.

Experts say that a crackdown on prescription drugs has pushed addicts to heroin, which is significantly cheaper and easier to obtain. Deaths from heroin overdoses in New York more than doubled from 215 in 2008 to 478 in 2012, according to the state Health Department.

With more than 30 heroin-related bills in the upper chamber from both sides of the aisle, some Democrats are wary that some of the measures simply increase criminal penalties.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera took to the floor to voice his discontent with the way the majority coalition, Republicans who lead the Senate with a faction of independent Democrats, handled some of the legislation.

"It is unfortunate that the majority of these bills go in the opposite way it should be going," the Bronx Democrat said, adding that addiction is not a criminal issue, but a public health one.

Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan also criticized some of the legislation saying that increased criminal penalties takes the state back 40 years to the tough, and failed, Rockefeller drug laws.

The bills were delivered to the Democratic-led Assembly who are currently holding their own forums.

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