NYS Assemblyman Steve Stern and Suffolk County DA Ray Tierney Unveil Legislation to Combat Drug Crimes and the Fentanyl Epidemic

Legislative package aims to stem the rising tide of overdose deaths

Albany, NY – New York State Assemblyman Steve Stern and Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney were joined by members of the New York State Legislature, local district attorneys, members of law enforcement, labor unions, community advocates, and families and friends that have lost loved ones to fentanyl and other opioids, to call for the enactment of four key pieces of legislation to help end the deadly scourge of overdoses in New York State.

“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 package of legislation that will have a real impact on the health and safety of our residents.”

The fentanyl epidemic has devastated families across our state and left communities struggling with how to combat this scourge. Eight ounces of fentanyl is enough to kill 113,410 people. Nationwide, more than 110,000 lives were lost to fentanyl poisoning in 2022. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 7 out of every 10 pills sold on the streets are surreptitiously laced with fentanyl. These statistics illustrate the need to take decisive action.

“Opioid overdose is the leading cause of death for young people aged 18-50,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney. “This is a crisis. While legislation will never be the sole solution, these commonsense changes will save lives. 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.”

The legislative package, which was drafted with the support and input of local district attorneys and advocates for victims of drug crimes, includes the following bills:

(A8397/S7805): Relates to the award of crime victim assistance funds for victims of overdoses where a substance was administered through deception or surreptitiously

This bill amends the Executive Law to include families of children lost to a fatal overdose for financial compensation under the law.

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.

Eligibility for compensation from this fund depends on the type of crime that occurred. This legislation would expand that eligibility to any fatal drug overdose resulting from a sale that is categorized as reckless or criminally negligent.

(A8395/S7763): Relates to adding Xylazine to the depressants designated as controlled substances

This bill amends the Public Health Law to specify that the possession and use of Xylazine is illegal with an exception for its use only in veterinary practice for purposes of injection to cattle and nonhuman species (when such purposes are approved by the federal food and drug administration).

In recent years, there has been an alarming increase of illicit use of the depressant Xylazine, commonly called “tranq” by drug dealers and drug users on the streets. Xylazine has long been appropriately prescribed and administered by veterinarians in a liquid form for treating a number of serious animal health conditions. However, the illicit use of the powder form of “tranq” has grown dangerously as it is frequently being added as a “cutting agent” to fentanyl, heroin, and other harmful street drugs. When it is mixed with these drugs the effects are often deadly, due to the fact that it has a severely high depressant effect on the human body’s central nervous system.

Law enforcement entities in our state have noted increasingly alarming trends of Xylazine appearing in toxicology reports from drug overdoses. However, because the sale and possession of Xylazine in New York is neither restricted nor illegal in any way, there is no way to prevent drug dealers from adding this potentially deadly substance to illicit street drugs. This change in law is urgently needed to reduce drug overdose deaths and to combat the irreparable harm from use of this dangerous and currently unrestricted substance.

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.

(A8384/S7790): Relates to manslaughter by delivering or administering certain controlled substances (aka “Chelsey’s Law”)

This bill, commonly known as a “Death by Dealer” statute, amends the Penal Law to devise a new statutory scheme around “drug-induced manslaughter” that codifies certain proximate homicide precepts applicable to controlled substances.

Currently, a person who provides an illicit drug that results in the death of a user can typically only be charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance (a class B non-violent felony), allowing those involved in the illicit drug trade to escape prosecution for the deaths caused by their actions. This bill, which is largely consistent with case law holdings, would 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 ultimate supplier.

This bill is titled “Chelsey’s Law” in honor of Chelsey Murray, a 31-year-old Suffolk County resident who tragically passed away in August 2022 from fentanyl poisoning attributed to a nefarious drug dealer.

(A8383/S7816): Relates to bail for certain felony offenses involving the manufacture, sale, distribution, or possession with intent to sell synthetic opioids

This bill amends the Criminal Procedure Law to allow prosecutors to seek bail on Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance 2nd Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 2nd Degree, A-II felonies. 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. This change would give local district attorneys the ability to ask for bail for sale and possession of large amounts of methamphetamine, LSD and other dangerous narcotics. In addition, prosecutors would also be allowed to ask for bail for any fentanyl or nitazine cases, which would have the largest immediate effect on the current overdose crisis.

“These commonsense measures will help provide the families of overdose victims with critical resources, 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,” said Assemblyman Stern. “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.”