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Lawmakers, Health Providers Tackle Opioid Epidemic in Roundtable

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Carmel Police Chief Anthony Hoffman, right, and Yorktown Police Chief Robert Noble speak to Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne, Yorktown Deputy Supervisor Ed Latcherman, Assemblyman Matt Slater, Congressman Mike Lawler and Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy during a forum to discuss combatting the opioid epidemic locally.

Combating the fentanyl and opioid epidemic is a global battle. In the U.S. more than 100,000 people died in 2022 from overdosing on prescription opioids and fentanyl-laced drugs.

In Westchester and Putnam counties, 2022 drug overdose death rates also rose, especially those that were related to fentanyl.

Last Friday afternoon, the first in a series of roundtable discussions was held in Yorktown that focused on a variety of drug issues. Among the two dozen attendees were federal and local officials, local law enforcement agencies and representatives from support groups and medical organizations across Westchester and Putnam. The forum was organized by Assemblyman Matt Slater (R/C-Yorktown).

Critical to fighting drug-related crimes is strengthening current laws, which were criticized for being lax and ineffective pertaining to attempts to arrest and charge drug peddlers.

Slater has recently sponsored a “death by dealer” bill that would give local law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to arrest and charge local dealers selling lethal drugs with a Class A felony. Currently arrested dealers can only be charged with a Class A felony by a federal prosecutor, who can decide against going after lower-level dealers.

Waiting for a federal prosecutor to take the case could take weeks, and the current cashless bail policies allow arrested drug dealers and traffickers to be back on the street selling drugs. Slater’s bill has bipartisan support, and if it becomes law, it would allow local law enforcement to quickly arrest and prosecute drug peddlers.

Slater crafted the legislation with assistance from Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy, Assistant District Attorney Breanne Smith and Putnam County Sheriff Kevin McConville.

“This is an issue that crosses all boundaries and is an issue that affects families across the entire country,” Slater said. “We are losing when it comes to fentanyl opioid-related deaths, we are losing one New Yorker every four hours to overdose deaths.”

Congressman Mike Lawler (R-Pearl River), one of the attendees at last week’s roundtable, said he’s lending his support as he pushes for similar bills at the federal level.

The discussion also focused on enforcement, treatment, prevention and recovery. Yorktown Police Chief Robert Noble spoke of the challenge of nabbing dealers who use social media and online chat platforms to peddle fentanyl-laced narcotics.

“We want to put away the heavy dealers,” Noble said. “When arrests are made, evidence sent to the county lab has come back laced with fentanyl. It’s very dangerous out there.”

Noble referred to Yorktown Police Detective Jim Hannigan who recently arrested a man charged with one count of fentanyl distribution resulting in a death, a crime which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. Noble also mentioned how his department recently shut down a smoke shop on Commerce Street in Yorktown for selling drugs.

Another important facet is helping struggling addicts to recover. Developing more treatment and recovery programs was addressed extensively by attendees representing the Alliance for Safe Kids, The Prevention Council of Putnam, CoveCare Center, the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health and Putnam Hospital Center.

Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne said there aren’t many programs for youths who are struggling with drug addiction.

“Youth are being targeted at a very early age and we are very much committed to having a stabilization center in Putnam County,” Byrne said.

Stabilization centers help people of all ages suffering from addiction, trauma and intoxication. Last fall, one center was prepared to open at a Brewster shopping plaza next to an established and well-attended day care center. The plan angered parents, and the community successfully fought to have the center located elsewhere.

Byrne said that an alternative site for the center is currently being considered. Currently, the closest stabilization center is in Poughkeepsie.

Seniors are often lost in the conversation about drug addiction. Trevor Payne, director of Drug & Alcohol Services for the Westchester Department of Community Mental Health, spoke about problems monitoring seniors taking pain medication.

“We need to have a state management piece that can better address the elderly and help manage their medication,” Payne said. “We need to know if we are treating pain management or addiction.”

Slater said several salient points were raised that will be the basis of six to eight new bills he plans on introducing.

“There were a lot of important discussions we had today and this has been only one conversation,” Slater said. “We’re going to make sure we get new bills drafted and we’re going to come back to this same group. It’s important to continue this conversation.”







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