New York has decriminalized the possession and sale of hypodermic needles and syringes as part of new laws signed this week by Gov. Kathy Hochul that supporters hope will reduce the number of people who die of drug overdoses.
New York state already funds the distribution of millions of syringes handed out each year through public health programs. Supporters say the new law will end the arrests of “thousands of people each year for syringe possession,” according to a summary of the legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera.
Hochul, a Democrat, signed five drug-related bills Thursday. One lifted New York's limit on how many syringes a pharmacy can provide.
Under another one, courts can no longer consider possession of opioid-blocking drugs like naloxone as evidence of possession of controlled substances.
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Judges can now order treatment for people who use alcohol or drugs in excess — rather than requiring them to develop a full addiction first.
And state prisons and local jails will launch a more extensive medication-assisted treatment program to help more than half of incarcerated people in New York who have a substance use disorder and face risk of overdose after release.
The program is voluntary and will be offered to people facing opioid addiction who could receive counseling and the use of medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.
The governor said Thursday that helping people seek support for addiction is personal for her.
She said her nephew, Michael, cut himself on a meat slicer while working part-time at a deli as a teenager. He developed an addiction to an opiate-based painkiller, and later sought other drugs, became homeless and went to prison.
He later become a sports coach and addiction counselor, but died after overdosing on fentanyl.
“His mother found him with the needles in his arms,” Hochul said, adding that his wake drew hundreds of people, including some in recovery.
“How devastated they were when they saw how someone who had believed in their recovery did not survive themselves,” she said.
In recent years, New York has made it easier for people to access naloxone and other opioid antagonists that can prevent deaths from overdose. The state is set to launch an online directory for distributors of opioid antagonists.
The Democratic-led Legislature passed the bills over the summer. Approved legislation doesn’t land on the governor’s desk immediately in New York, where legislative leaders and the governor's office can negotiate on timing.