- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - State lawmakers have agreed on legislation to curb the growing heroin epidemic in New York.

The 11 bills include a requirement for insurance companies to better cover substance-abuse treatment, the creation of a statewide public awareness campaign to prevent opioid use and harsher penalties to crack down on illegal drug distribution, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

“There will be one standard definition of what is medically necessary, so insurance companies can’t play games and decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t get treatment,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said during a news conference with legislative leaders.

Medical practitioners and pharmacists accused of illegally selling controlled substances to their patients will be charged with a harsher C felony rather than a D felony, punishable by up to 5 1/2 years in prison.

The legislation also requires every anti-overdose kit, which contains the drug naloxone, to include an information card on how to administer the drug and how to recognize the symptoms of a heroin and opioid overdose.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest, would equip patrol officers with 19,500 naloxone kits. Schneiderman’s office is reimbursing the cost of kits for departments across the state.

Experts say that Mexican heroin is flooding the New York market with a drug that is cheaper and more potent than it used to be.

According to data from Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuses Services, heroin and prescription admissions to OASAS-certified programs in Nassau County doubled between 2004 and 2013. Neighboring Suffolk County had more than 3,900 admissions in 2004 and roughly 8,500 last year.

“Our work is not done, but today we have taken a great step forward providing the tools needed to put an end to the hold that heroin has on so many of our families,” Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said.

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