Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney (R – Brookhaven) explains to The Jewish Press why the package of bills to fight opioid overdose is good news for New Yorkers and Suffolk County residents but faces stiff opposition in each of the legislative houses.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Suffolk County as well as county officials called on the legislature to stop dragging their feet and put some teeth in the current law to help public safety officials fight criminal drug sales that often lead to overdose and death.

Among the long list of drugs most popular today are cocaine, marijuana (now legal in the sate) heroin, Xylazine (first used in 1967), opioids, methamphetamine and Fentanyl, which are wreaking havoc on many communities across the state. Law enforcement seems to be powerless because state laws are either weak or don’t address the issue at all.


Barbiturates such as Seconal also present the risk of becoming habit-forming.

The Suffolk County law enforcement community is pushing for substantive legislation to ward off an international incident.

“The chemical component parts [of Xylazine] are being made in China, they are being put together in labs in Mexico, then coming across our border and flooding our community. I think it’s the cartels and I think the practice in our communities has changed, not for the better, where in the past, we used to have cocaine and heroin, which is not good but cocaine and heroin are much less deadly than Xylazine, Tranq, Fentanyl and nitrazine Isotonitazene (aka Isotonitazene or “ISO”), which are exponentially more dangerous than what we had when we were young people. Fentanyl is unforgiving and it’s only a matter of time before you overdose from Fentanyl because it’s poisonous,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R – Brookhaven, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press.

While Tierney was not sure about the cartels, the Washington, DC-based Centers for Disease Control reports the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel in Mexico are using chemicals largely sourced from China. These groups are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the Fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.

One state Senator backed up the cartel hypothesis.

Senator Dean Murray (R – East Patchogue, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press the meaning behind the importance of passing this legislative session.

“Fentanyl is coming in with the border crisis. We’ve seen an increase just because of the border crisis. You have these dealers, these cartels that are using these folks coming across [the border] to bring it in. MS-13 is still there. We still have some gangs there that are pushing this stuff,” Senator Dean Murray (R – East Patchogue, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press.

“This is an epidemic that knows no socioeconomic, racial, ethnic boundaries. However you want to divide people, it affects everyone. I can tell you as a citizen, people who I care about have dealt with this issue. It’s a tremendously difficult problem to deal with and it is a tremendously prevalent one,” Tierney said.

“This package of bills is designed to give law enforcement and our district attorneys the tools they need to go after the dealers, the ones pushing this poison and killing people,” Murray said.

Last year, 400 people in Suffolk County died from an overdose of Xylazine, known as tranq because it is a tranquilizer for farm animals and not illegal in New York. That may be about to change.

“With passage of this four-bill package, I have every confidence it will have an immediate impact and will also serve as a model for other jurisdictions throughout the country as to how we can be more proactive, have greater impact and start to turn the tide, particularly in New York where we haven’t done nearly enough,” Assemblyman Steve Stern (D – Dix Hills, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press. Stern is shepherding all four bills through the Assembly, as the prime sponsor of the measures.

“In the Assembly my minority colleagues have already started to sign on as cosponsors; they will be very supportive as I hope the majority of the majority will be as well. There is a road ahead and it’s not going to be an easy one. There are going to be those that realize as well-intentioned as these initiatives are, as commonsense as they might be, that inevitably there are going to be those that question it. The time is now. It’s really beyond time. New York is far behind the rest of the country when it comes to making a real impact. Our numbers are not going in the right direction.”

The four anti-overdose bills include:

  • Making the sale of Fentanyl a bailable offense. You can ask for bail and hold people on bail;
  • Having a Death by Dealer statute, meaning that if you sell Fentanyl and it causes the death of another person under certain circumstances you can be held criminally responsible for that;
  • Giving families who lost a loved one access to the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund; and
  • Making Xylazine, known as tranq, illegal. (It is currently not illegal in New York state.)

“We know when people don’t get help, their struggles only become more intense. Addiction is the same. We’ve all seen lives sapped by opioid dependence,” Governor Hochul said during her January 9 State of the State speech. “My own family has been touched by this epidemic of pain. I still mourn the loss of my nephew and the millions of other lives needlessly cut short.”

Four years ago, when Hochul was lieutenant governor, she co-chaired the state’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force. Seven years ago, her nephew, Michael, overdosed on Fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid. His overdose spiraled downhill after Michael sustained a hand injury and was prescribed opioids.

“He listened to his doctors,” Hochul said. “He struggled for years to fight back and he hit rock bottom after not receiving proper treatment from Medicaid. He went back to the streets and it wasn’t long before they found a needle in his arm,” Hochul said. “It has to end now. We’ve lost too many lives – precious lives. It doesn’t come from not having enough capacity to take care of him. Never again in the state of New York.”

Another personal story comes from a member of the Assembly on the Republican side of the aisle.

Assemblyman Keith Brown (R – Northport, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press about the personal aspect of the legislation for him. “I lost my nephew, Jess, to a Fentanyl overdose five years ago. He was four weeks shy of his 20th birthday. Jessie walks with me every day and gives me my drive, my energy, to make sure that the next Jessie is saved and that another family doesn’t have to suffer what my sister and my family had gone through.”

“The county has the third highest overdose death rate in the state. We really are at Ground Zero,” Assemblyman Keith Brown (R – Northport, Suffolk County) told The Jewish Press. “It’s also really personal to me. I lost my nephew, Jess, to a Fentanyl overdose five years ago. He was four weeks shy of his twentieth birthday. The Death by Dealer bill we’re talking about is his scenario exactly because he was being treated for substance abuse issues. He had just gotten out and he copped some drugs while he was alone, in a weak moment. We got a phone call 24 hours later that he was found dead in his kitchen by himself. Jessie walks with me every day and gives me my drive, my energy, to make sure that the next Jessie is saved and that another family doesn’t have to suffer what my sister and my family had gone through.”

This measure might be the most difficult to get passed in the legislature because of one key component.

“The bill will make this offense a bailable offense so that the dealer gets taken off the street. It literally cuts the head off the snake. We know we have a huge problem with the supply of Fentanyl coming into this country from China. We have a real problem in our communities that we’re not doing enough,” said Brown, who is the co-sponsor of all four bills. “This is a step in the right direction to stop the local supply of heroin, Fentanyl and Xylazine to kids in our community and hopefully stem this tide of overdose deaths that we have.”

Brown and Stern will have their work cut out for them this session, which wraps up in early June.

“The real problem is there is a feeling in the majority of criminalizing any behavior and finding responsibility on people. You have to be completely ignorant not to say that there is a huge problem that needs addressing,” Brown said.

“The only way to address it is to be hard on drug dealers, the major traffickers of drugs, into our state onto Long Island and be compassionate about the people who are suffering that they get the mental health treatment and the drug treatment that they need in order to stop using drugs as a coping mechanism. We’re losing the best and the brightest in our community in droves. More people were killed by overdose than by homicide last year.”

In the Senate, where only Republicans are sponsoring the measures, the battle lines are being drawn even as the bills are being drafted.

Assemblyman Steve Stern (D – Dix Hills, Suffolk County) is shepherding all four bills through the Assembly as the prime sponsor of the measures. “There is a road ahead and it’s not going to be an easy one. There are going to be those that will question it. The time is now. It’s really beyond time. New York is far behind the rest of the country when it comes to making a real impact,” he told The Jewish Press.

“Last year there were 400 Fentanyl deaths in Suffolk County alone. If that is not an epidemic, I don’t know what is,” said Murray. “Tranq is actually a sedative for large farm animals. It is not even a controlled substance. It is not considered a drug for legal purposes. We need to fix that. We need to make it illegal for uses the drug is not designed for,” Murray said, echoing similar sentiments to Stern’s.

As in the Assembly, there will be some steep hurdles to overcome.

“The biggest obstacle is from the senators who were pushing hard for cashless bail and don’t want to see any changes made to bail. That’s going to be a hurdle to get over. The most important thing will be explaining these bills. A lot of times you will have legislators look at a bill, think it’s designed for one thing and it is not,” Murray said. “One of the bills actually allows the family of those who die from an overdose to have access to the Victims’ Compensation Fund to help pay for the funeral. What we’re saying is in a case where you had a dealer pushing Fentanyl or Xylazine or something like this, an illegal deadly drug by tricking them, by not telling them that this drug I’m giving you is laced with this deadly drug. When that happens, they are now a crime victim. They should qualify for the crime victims’ fund to help pay for their funeral expenses.

“I hope we set aside the partisan stuff. I hope we take a common-sense approach to this. Look at the bills for what they are doing and not what you think they are doing. Look at what they are actually accomplishing because they can save lives,” Murray concluded.

The county executive’s office sent The Jewish Press a prepared statement:

“This effort has my full support and I appreciate their determination for proposing this aggressive anti-fentanyl legislative effort. We are in the middle of a true epidemic, one that took more than 400 lives in Suffolk County last year.” Newly-minted Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R – Brookhaven, Suffolk County), who has been in office since January 1, 2024, said in his brief statement.

“It is time to seek and secure every resource available to take steps in our fight against this deadly public safety emergency.”

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].