“I’d like to know who sold my son the heroin and have them stand before a judge,” said Elizabeth Berardi whose son Carter died of a heroin overdose two years ago. “If you’re running drugs and doing it to make money then you should be held accountable to the fullest degree.”
Recent heroin overdoses in Western New York, 23 of which were fatal, have prompted the State Senate Heroin Task Force to call for the enactment of Laree’s Law. The law (S.4163) would allow district attorneys throughout the state to press homicide charges on dealers if the heroin they sell causes an overdose death.
According to the Task Force news release, the deaths were the result of a bad batch of heroin laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl and occurred in Erie County, between Jan. 29 and Feb. 9. Fentanyl is an artificial opiate that can be 50 times more powerful; this is the same compound that was reported to be responsible for the bad batch in Dutchess County two years ago.
The task force, comprised of State Senators Terrence Murphy, George Amedore and Robert Ortt, proposed the bill last June. It was passed in the Senate by a vote of 53-9 and sent to the State Assembly. Since it was not passed in the Assembly, the senators are calling for another vote in hopes it will become a law, according to Murphy.
“The face of heroin has changed,” Murphy said. “It has come to roost amongst the rich and the poor, in our schools and our homes. We need to protect our families through more stringent legislation that seeks to punish drug dealers peddling their poison. Of the 17 pieces of legislation the senate passed last year, only one became a law. If we are serious about winning the war on drugs the Assembly needs to act.”
Named after Laree Farrell Lincoln, an Albany county teen who died of an overdose three years ago, this law holds a clause similar to the State’s “Good Samaritan” Law. According to the release, it is meant for big-time pushers who are profiting from their sales, users who purchase heroin with intent on using it with others can use the “co-user carve out” as a defense if one of them overdoses.
New Paltz Police Department Lt. Rob Lucchesi said he has seen a couple of local cases involving fentanyl-laced heroin. He added that they treat every death as though it may be a homicide, including overdoses.
While the task force is working at the legislative level, there are others working with those who suffer from a substance use disorder and with the community to help in any way they can.
In 2014 Berardi founded Safe Sober Living, a Massachusetts based, non-profit organization that advocates for individuals living with the disease of substance abuse disorder. She said that while she supports the legislation proposed by the senators there is more that needs to be done.
“The continuum of care is not something that’s frequently addressed but something that really matters,” Berardi said. “It’s very important that communities become involved and are aware and supportive.”
The Safe Sober Living Facebook page is full of science-based articles that show the true nature of the disease that is substance abuse. Berardi said that her mission is spreading awareness and helping people understand how serious this disease is. She mentioned the benefits of Narcan (Naloxone), a drug that has been found to reverse an opiate overdose.
AWARENESS (Assisting With Adolescents Resolving, Empowering, Nurturing, Each Student Substantively) is a group that provides support, mentoring and peer-to-peer education to youth in Ulster County. Marie Shultis is the Executive Director of this group; she holds weekly meetings in New Paltz and visits the Ulster County Jail to speak with inmates in recovery.
Shultis feels that the work AWARENESS does is very important and helps kids when they need a support system. She said this is an ongoing problem; once kids fall into the cycle it is difficult for them to break out.
“With the heroin being so prevalent there is nowhere for these kids when they come out of rehab or jail,” Shultis said. “One comes out but by the time the others are released, the first is back using again.”