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Governor tries again to pass new law enforcement tools for fighting opiate war

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to give police and prosecutors new tools in the fight against the opioid crisis. Speaking at the Cheektowaga State Police barracks, the Governor proposed his new legislation as a response to chemist drug dealers who stay one step ahead of the legal process controlling drugs like fentanyl and K2. He said dealers change their formula when one version of a drug is made illegal, so they can sell one the law and law enforcement cannot handle.

Under legislation he wants passed in the new year, the Governor wants to simplify the process - and, in the process, save lives and put dealers in prison. The proposal would ban synthetic analogs of fentanyl and K2, allowing for more arrests.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said law enforcement needs those tools.

"Until now, law enforcement in New York has not been fully empowered to crack down on this substance," Flynn said. "Without the appropriate legislation, police officers in New York have been hamstrung in our efforts to target major drug dealers who are putting our residents and our communities at risk."

The Governor is also planning an order from the State Department of Financial Services to bar health insurers from limiting the number of doses of the drug antagonist naloxone covered by insurance plans. Often, naloxone is the last way to save the life of a person who is overdosing.

Erie County Executive Poloncarz said it is lethality on the streets.

"As our health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein, likes to say, 'There is no such thing as quality control when we are talking about the amount of drugs that are being placed on the street today. It might be two grains. It might be 20 grains. It's literally Russian Roulette,'" Poloncarz said. "We need to hold those responsible who are putting these drugs on the street."

The State Senate passed similar legislation last year, but the measure died in the Assembly. State Republican Senator Chris Jacobs said he worries that might happen again, even though the proposal is needed.

"The unscrupulous nature and the amount of money means that we're going to have to keep coming back and we have to stay on this," Jacobs said. "We find something on the street, as the County Executive said, the lab was the one who found one of these analogs. We need to immediately go and change the law. This is something we need to be focused on on a daily basis because people are dying on a daily basis."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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