“Heroin addiction is plaguing communities state-wide,” State Senator Velmanette Montgomery told an audience in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “But for once, the problem is not in Bed-Stuy. It’s not in Harlem. There are no men laying on our streets with needles sticking out of their arms. At least not yet–thank god.”
“This is a suburban, rural and upstate problem,” Montgomery said. People in those areas, she explained, have increasingly become hooked on prescription drugs. But with tough laws tracking prescription purchases to prevent abuse, addicts are increasingly switching to heroin to get their fix.
“Young people are dropping like flies,” Montgomery said. “Walled off from prescription drugs, they graduate to heroin.”
The State Senator was speaking at a State Budget Forum Presentation, where local leaders often come to herald their accomplishments of “bringing home the bacon” of state funding to their district.
But Montgomery was about to tell the audience that she willfully pushed for a program that will send money elsewhere.
“I sponsored S7102,” she said. It’s a bill that would provide state funds to equip first responders with opioid antagonist drugs, such as Naloxone, along with equipment to administer them–all of which can counter the onset of an overdose.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Police Commissioner William Bratton recently announced their own initiative to provide such antidotes to about 20,000 police officers as part of a Community Overdose Prevention (COP) program, using $5 million in seized drug money.
Montgomery’s bill would expand the idea with state funding.
“I had State Senators from more rural areas approach me,” Montgomery said. “Asking me to help them with measures for treatment and education, rather than imprisonment. For once, it’s their kids. So they’ve changed their tune.”
There were collective shrugs and moans in the audience.
“But you know what? It’s the right thing to do. For years this is what we’ve been preaching. A move away from incarceration and into more sensible policies of rehabilitation. So I’m happy to put the bill forward, and look into other measures. Even if it’s money out of our community.”
Montgomery also cautioned that the African American community might only temporarily be unaffected by the heroin menace.
“And even if it’s not hitting us now,” Montgomery said, “just remember. When they sneeze…”
“…we get pneumonia,” the audience responded in unison.