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(ALBANY, N.Y.) – Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney today unveiled a bi-partisan legislative package introduced by Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and Senators Dean Murray (R-Patchogue), Anthony Palumbo (R-Riverhead), and Steven D. Rhoads (R- Massapequa), that proposes to address the current drug overdose crisis by charging suppliers of drugs that cause fatalities with Manslaughter, adding Xylazine to the controlled substances list requiring a prescription, and allowing families who have lost loved ones to fatal overdoses to access crime victim funding. In addition, the package includes a bill that allows prosecutors the ability to ask for bail for those charged with the sale and possession with intent to sell dangerous amounts of fentanyl, nitazine, methamphetamine, LSD and other narcotics.

District Attorney Tierney and the Long Island legislators rallied in Albany along with Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly and dozens of members of Suffolk County law enforcement, labor unions, community activists and constituents to promote the need for common sense changes to our drug laws in the face of an epidemic of deaths from opioid overdoses.  

In 2022, Suffolk County reported more than 400 deaths caused by drug overdoses, with fentanyl being the driving force and common denominator. Nationwide, more than 110,000 lives were lost to fentanyl poisoning in the same year. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, nationwide, 7 out of every 10 pills sold on the streets are surreptitiously laced with fentanyl. The statistics illustrate a nationwide epidemic.

Members from the community who were present included Gene and Sue Murray who lost their daughter, Chelsey, to a fatal fentanyl overdose in Suffolk County in 2022 and for whom “Chelsey’s Law” (see below) is named.

“Opioid Overdose is the leading cause of death for young people aged 18-50. This is a crisis. While legislation will never be the sole solution, these common sense changes will save lives,” said District Attorney Tierney. “It is our moral and ethical duty, at the very least, to ask each of our elected officials to consider these bills. Work with us. More importantly, listen to and talk to these families. What New York is doing now is not working and young people are dying at alarming rates. I thank this bi-partisan group of legislators for taking action to deal with this crisis.”

“We have many different tools in our toolbox to combat fentanyl and other dangerous drugs, but one tool is missing: a specific statute that provides us with a clear path to charge dealers for deaths that occur when they sell, deliver, or administer their poison,” said Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly. “Dealers must be held accountable, not only for selling dangerous illicit drugs, but for taking lives and ripping apart families. I am proud to join Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney in supporting this package of bills that will help us save lives and get justice for victims.”

“The drug epidemic is the crisis of our lifetimes, and the omnipresence of fentanyl throughout our illicit drug supply continues to claim more lives every year. While there is no singular solution to ending this terrible scourge of illness and death, we all agree that those who peddle this poison for profit, knowing that the substances they sell can cause death in an instant, must be held accountable under the law,” said Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon. “My office has prosecuted countless drug dealers over the past eight years and only once were we able to bring a charge of manslaughter against a drug dealer whose customer suffered a fatal overdose; that case remains the only time a New York City District Attorney has successfully done so. Staten Island District Attorney McMahon fully supports this legislation because it would give our prosecutors a greatly expanded ability to pursue so-called ‘death-by-dealer’ cases on behalf of families mourning the loss of a loved one, and to send a unequivocal message to drug dealers that their selfish and callous acts will end in a lengthy prison sentence. We appreciate the Sponsors for pushing this important legislation, and urge their colleagues and Governor Hochul to support their work during this upcoming session.”

“For far too long, the deadly scourge of fentanyl and opioid overdoses has ravaged our communities and cut countless lives short,” said Assemblyman Steve Stern. “This epidemic is one of the defining issues of our time, and policy makers have a moral obligation to act swiftly and prevent these senseless tragedies. That is why I’m so proud to partner with Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, and my Long Island colleagues in the Senate, on a historic bi-partisan package of legislation that will have a real impact on the health and safety of our residents.  We stand here today united in our support for commonsense measures that will hold drug dealers accountable for the true cost of their activities, significantly diminish the open availability of these dangerous drugs on our streets and give district attorneys the necessary tools to work up the criminal chain to the suppliers. We urge our colleagues in the Legislature, regardless of their party affiliation, to join us in passing these critically important initiatives, which will stem the rising tide of overdose deaths in our state and hopefully serve as a model for communities throughout our country that are dealing with these very same challenges.”

“I promised my constituents I would be a fighter for public safety - this package of bills makes public safety a priority and delivers on that promise. This package of bills aims to directly combat the dangerous fentanyl epidemic our state and our nation is facing and is necessary to save lives,” said Senator Steven Rhoads. “It provides law enforcement officials and District Attorneys with the legal tools they need to take drug dealers off the streets and prevent fentanyl from reaching our communities. As elected leaders of our communities, it is our duty and our responsibility to pass these bills and take action to save lives. The time to act is now.”

“The fentanyl epidemic has devastated families, stolen the promise and future of so many young New Yorkers and left communities struggling with how to combat this scourge. Chelsey’s Law will increase penalties for individuals who knew or had reasonable grounds to know that the narcotics they sold were laced with fentanyl,” said Senator Anthony Palumbo, Ranking Member of the Senate Codes and Judiciary Committees. “These individuals are not drug dealers, they are death dealers, and the punishment should match the severity of their crimes. I applaud District Attorney Ray Tierney and the Murray family for their advocacy and action in combating fentanyl and efforts to tackle this crisis head on to improve the health and safety of our communities.”

“This package of bills is necessary to save lives. We are losing far too many friends, neighbors and loved ones to this fentanyl epidemic,” said Senator Dean Murray. “It is imperative that we, as legislators, give our law enforcement officials and our District Attorneys, the legal tools necessary to take these poison pushing dealers off the streets and put them behind bars where they belong.”

“The fentanyl epidemic is wrecking lives and disrupting communities across our state. I am pleased to partner and consult with local law enforcement and district attorneys to develop real solutions to the crisis,” said Senator Rob Rolison. “Every day that we wait to appropriately punish those guilty of spreading this poison claims the life of another friend, family member, neighbor – even first responder. This potentially lifesaving fentanyl legislation needs the support of the state legislature and Albany leadership, immediately.”

Linda Ventura, founder, and executive director of Thomas’ Hope Foundation was present at the rally and press conference. Linda’s son died of a fatal overdose over a decade ago on Long Island, and Linda thereafter turned her grief into helping other families by offering education, support, relapse prevention services, daily afternoon wellness group activities, recovery coaching, peer support, and transportation for care, all free of charge. Linda has actively supported the passage of a Death by Dealer statute since 2021, when it was introduced by then – Assemblyman Kaminsky and Senator Palumbo. Linda speaks regularly at the Suffolk County Police Academy to officers trained in crisis response, who express utter frustration with the current statutory scheme. In speaking about the current proposal for Chelsey’s Law, Ventura said, “It is time that New York State appropriately penalize the people that are distributing this deadly poison, knowing it is lethal and is killing our loved ones, particularly our young adults.”

Gene and Sue Murray also participated in the rally and press conference. Gene and Sue lost their son over a decade ago to a fatal drug overdose. Tragically, another one of their children, daughter Chelsey, fought opioid use disorder. Chelsey attempted to recover by going to drug rehabilitation, only to be allegedly approached by her dealer after being released. Chelsey passed away due to fentanyl poisoning in August 2022. Gene and Sue Murray said, “We would like to express our support for a new proposed law, ‘Chelsey’s Law,’ named in honor of our beloved daughter. After her tragic overdose from fentanyl and the arrest of the drug dealer, we were shocked to learn that in New York State, Chelsey’s fentanyl dealer who caused her death could not be charged with anything beyond the sale of the drugs that killed her. We need a stronger law to hold those, who sell the poison that kills so many like our daughter Chelsey, accountable.”

“The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) stands in support with Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney as we collectively work to make positive strides in 2024 combating the devastating impact that fentanyl continues to inflict on individuals and families in our communities.

LICADD and DA Tierney agree that those willingly and knowingly contributing to the detriment and unprecedented poisoning of our community members must be held to account for their actions,” said LICADD Executive Director Steve Chassman. “An equal acknowledgement recognizes that the multitudes of our citizens afflicted with the disease of opioid use disorder deserve every possible chance to access quality treatment on demand.

LICADD commends DA Tierney for his leadership and continued partnership in our mutual efforts to work tirelessly to end the scourge of loss that opioids and fentanyl continue to inflict on our families and in our communities.”

The four pieces of legislation that were drafted in consultation with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, are outlined as follows:

First Proposed Bill – “Chelsey’s Law” (Assembly Bill A08384 sponsored by Assemb. Stern – Senate Bill S07790 sponsored by Sen. Palumbo):

  1. A person commits the crime of manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter when he or she knows or has reasonable grounds to know that a controlled substance is likely to cause the death of another person and sells, administers, delivers, or causes the delivery of a controlled substance to another person and such substance causes, contributes to, or aids in the death of such other person.
  2. Formerly referred to as the “Death by Dealer” statute, this bill would be renamed “Chelsey’s Law,” in honor of Chelsey Murray, a 31-year-old Suffolk County resident who fatally overdosed in August 2022 from fentanyl poisoning that was traced back to her alleged supplier.
  3. Currently, a person who provides an illicit drug that results in the death of a user can typically be charged only with drug sale, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, a Class B non-violent felony.

Under the current law, bail, victims’ compensation, sentencing guidelines, restitution, Clean Slate provisions and parole eligibility are all determined by the section of the law under which the defendant is charged and convicted. In New York State, drug sales are considered much more leniently than Manslaughter, such that typically no bail may be set, no victim’s compensation or restitution is allowed, and they receive a lesser sentence.

Second Proposed Bill – Designates Xylazine or “Tranq” as a Controlled Substance (Assembly Bill A08395 sponsored by Assemb. Stern – Senate Bill S07763 sponsored by Sen. Murray):

  1. Adds Xylazine, commonly known as “Tranq,” to a depressant designated as a controlled substance, with the exception that it be administered and/or prescribed solely for cattle or other nonhuman species, as approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Right now, the sale and possession of Xylazine in New York is neither restricted, nor illegal in any way, so there is no way to prevent drug dealers from adding this potentially deadly substance to illicit street drugs.  
  2. In recent years, there has been evidence of an alarming increase in illicit use of Xylazine, a large-animal tranquilizer by drug dealers and drug users on the streets. In 2023 in Suffolk County, the Medical Examiner has found xylazine to be present in the decedent’s toxicology reports in over 15% of fatal drug overdose cases completed thus far.
  3. The illicit use of the powder form of “Tranq” is frequently being added by drug dealers as a “cutting agent” to fentanyl, heroin, and other harmful street drugs. When mixed with these drugs, the effects are often deadly, because it has a severely high depressant effect on the human body’s central nervous system. 
  4. “Tranq” can cause skin sores and users may develop necrosis, making resuscitation efforts more difficult, as well as producing a withdrawal syndrome that makes it more difficult for sufferers to recover or be abstinent.
  5. This bill was vetted by both agricultural and veterinary experts who advocated for the exception when the drug is being administered and/or prescribed by veterinarians for treating animals.

Third Proposed Bill – Award Crime Victim Assistance Funds to Include Victims of Overdoses (Assembly Bill A08397 sponsored by Assemb. Stern – Senate Bill S07805 sponsored by Sen. Murray):

  1. This bill amends the Executive Law to include families of loved ones lost to a fatal overdose for financial compensation under the law.
  2. The New York State Office of Victims Services (OVS) administers a fund whereby victims of crimes that happen in New York State may be eligible to get reimbursed for certain crime-related, out-of-pocket expenses. Types of compensation OVS can provide include medical and counseling expenses; funeral and burial expenses; relocation, moving, and storage costs; lost earnings or loss of support.
  3. Eligibility for compensation from this fund depends on the type of crime that occurred. This legislation would expand eligibility to any fatal drug overdose resulting from a sale that is categorized as reckless or criminally negligent.

Fourth Proposed Bill – Relates to Bail for Certain Felony Offenses Involving the Manufacture, Sale, Distribution, or Possession with Intent to Sell Synthetic Opioids (Assembly Bill A08383 sponsored by Assemb. Stern – S07816 sponsored by Sen. Rhoads):

  1. This bill amends the Criminal Procedure Law to allow prosecutors to seek bail for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, both A-II felonies. This change would give local district attorneys the ability to ask for bail for sale and possession of dangerous amounts of fentanyl, nitazine, methamphetamine, LSD and other deadly narcotics. 
  2. Currently, New York State law only allows those charged with possessing and/or selling eight ounces of fentanyl to be held on bail. Those caught with less are arrested, arraigned, and released without bail until their next court date. Eight ounces of fentanyl is enough to kill 113,410 people. Bail reform is necessary to stop dealers from continually selling fentanyl after they have been released.

In addition, the ability to request bail can aid those suffering from addiction themselves when they are found in possession of fentanyl, as bail often acts as a catalyst to get defendants into drug court or treatment as an alternative to jail.  

District Attorney Tierney wants this legislative package to ignite the conversation about solutions to the opioid overdose epidemic and urges all New Yorkers to demand change in our laws to save lives. The future of New York State and all New Yorkers depends upon it.

 

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LICADD is thrilled to welcome FIST, GGT and Open Arms EAP into the LICADD family. During Recovery Month, more than ever, we need to work hard to remove the stigma of substance use disorder and give people the freedom and confidence to reach out for help.