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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"A duty to combat heroin and opioid crisis"

ALBANY, June 19, 2017 -- Every single day there is a new headline or another startling statistic.

Consider a small sampling from the past several months:

-- The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identifies the abuse of prescription medicine as one of America’s fastest-growing drug problems with nearly 15,000 people dying every year of overdoses due to prescription painkillers.

-- The CDC also notes a "grim milestone" that in 2015, more people died from heroin-related causes than from gun homicides. Gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1 less than a decade ago.

-- The Rockefeller Institute of Government reports that 3,009 New Yorkers died from a drug overdose in 2015. That marks a 71 percent increase from 2010.

-- There has been a surge in American infants being born with symptoms of withdrawal from heroin or strong prescription painkillers. The surge results from rising drug use among women in rural areas, according to one study estimating that approximately 21 percent of newborns in rural counties had withdrawal symptoms in 2013, up from 13 percent in 2004.

Again, just a small sample.

The New York State Senate created a Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction in 2014, at a time when local police departments and addiction centers, including many across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, were pointing to the alarming rise in the availability and use of heroin and opioids.

Since 2014, while the work of the task force has helped enact important new state-level laws and other responses, the heroin crisis has grown increasingly urgent.

The input we have received -- and continue to receive -- from the local front lines of this public health and safety crisis have targeted the necessary responses. But we can’t let up, not for one second, on the alarming threat of heroin, opioids, meth, synthetic substances, bath salts and other illegal drugs continuing to spread like a wildfire throughout our communities. The heroin and opioid crisis, especially, poses far too great a risk to spiral out of control, overwhelming and destroying individual lives along with local systems of health care, law enforcement, criminal justice, and social services.

The 2017-2018 state budget includes nearly $215 million in new funding to establish state-operated addiction treatment centers, enhance community-based providers, and expand other programs and services, including law enforcement.

Last week, the Senate continued to act. We approved a comprehensive legislative package, which I co-sponsor as a task force member, to build on existing state-level laws, programs, and services enacted over the past several years to strengthen awareness and education, prevention, and treatment and recovery efforts.

However, it also places a particular emphasis on heroin traffickers and dealers. It includes, for example, legislation to allow law enforcement to charge a drug dealer with homicide, a class A-1 felony carrying a penalty of 15 to 25 years in prison, if a person dies of an overdose of heroin or other opiate-controlled substance sold by that dealer. The measure targets mid- to high-level drug suppliers who profit from heroin sales.

Awareness and education, and prevention and treatment are fundamental responses. Tough laws and law enforcement are too, especially when it comes to heroin traffickers and dealers. I agree that we will not arrest our way out of this crisis, but we should not hesitate to throw the book at the pushers and suppliers of these deadly drugs.

Details on the entire legislative package are available on my Senate website,

Earlier this year, New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) President William E. Cherry said, "As county leaders, we are entrusted with preserving the health and safety of our communities. It is our duty to do whatever we can to help break the cycles of addiction, overdose, and death that have taken hold in so many corners of this state."

What he said applies across the board, at every level of government and in every community. It is our duty to do whatever we can.

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: Carl Blowers, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Carl Blowers

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Harriett Vickio, 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 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869