This session proved to be challenging but very rewarding. Due to the diligent efforts of the Committee, we were able to make historic reform to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. This reform will allow New York State to invest in less costly and more effective alternatives to incarceration.
The accomplishments of the Committee would not be possible without the support of so many individuals, advocacy groups, and service providers across New York State. I am certain that together we will continue to improve the lives of New Yorkers through a premier system of addiction services. I will continue to work toward a future where New York State is safe and free from chemical dependence and compulsive gambling.
Felix W. Ortiz, Chair
Under the guidance and leadership of Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse ensured the permanent transfer of responsibility for the state’s activities and oversight of the Compulsive Gambling Program from the Office of Mental Health to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Since then, Assemblyman Ortiz has worked to raise awareness about the negative impacts that compulsive gambling has on individuals and families and to ensure access to preventive and treatment services.
New Yorkers with a gambling problem can receive help by calling a toll-free telephone service at 1-877-8-HOPENY – available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – where clinically trained professionals offer confidential assistance to callers through means of crisis and motivational interviews. No more than 48 hours later those who wish to be contacted will receive a follow up call and have access to consumer-focused addiction crisis support and statewide referrals to services.
On February 10, 2009, Assemblyman Ortiz was honored to speak to the Coalition for Community Services. The Coalition has been serving the communities of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Fallsburg, and Western New York for over 30 years.
The night was an opportunity for youth, adolescents, and adults, who are addressing their issues with addiction, to be recognized for their successes and share their personal story of treatment and recovery.
Other speakers included Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, and the Commissioner of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Karen Carpenter-Palumbo.
The experiences of the First Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom have raised national consciousness about the mental health and substance use disorders that afflict veteran and civilian combatants and support personnel.
New York State has initiated a response to the needs of veterans that includes:
Release of more than $20 million into the OASAS community-based residential treatment system to establish veterans-specific intensive residential housing capacity statewide, along with specialty services for primary care and women veterans.
Establishment of a veterans “Drop in Center” within the Samaritan Village service system in New York City.
Establishment of the first veterans-specific crisis detoxification center to be operated by a community-based OASAS provider on a VA Health System campus.
The Division of Veterans’ Affairs, along with county and city veterans’ service agencies, are ready to assist you in determining your options or applying for a specific benefit. Their toll-free number – 1-888-VETS NYS (1-888-838-7697) – will link you to the NYS Division of Veterans’ Affairs counseling office nearest you. This information is also available on the Division of Veterans’ Affairs’ Web site at: www.veterans.state.ny.us.
Thirty-five years ago, New York enacted the harshest drug laws in the nation. At that time, many mistakenly believed the only way to combat drug abuse and reduce violent crime was to impose high maximum and mandatory minimum prison sentences. Judges in many cases had no choice but to sentence non-violent, lower-level drug offenders to prison. Further, the drug laws had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, which were unfairly targeted. Most importantly, those laws failed to curb drug abuse, and thus, the Assembly Majority fought to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws in the recently enacted state budget. In these difficult economic times, instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, some of this money will now be used more effectively for treatment, education and job creation in our communities.
In 2004, the state began rethinking these rigid laws based on the reality that drug addiction is a disease for which there are more effective, more compassionate, and less costly alternatives to incarceration. The limited reforms put in place in 2004 have already saved the state nearly $100 million. This year, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz helped craft a state budget that includes reform of the outdated Rockefeller Drug Laws, making the criminal justice system more effective and fair. The reforms include:
Restoration of judicial discretion to allow for more appropriate sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, including treatment as a potential alternative to incarceration;
Expansion of substance abuse treatment programs to increase eligibility for shock incarceration — a boot camp-style program that fosters involvement, self direction and individual responsibility; and
Opportunities for non-violent persons incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws to apply for resentencing.
Treatment and rehabilitation initiatives offer certain lower level offenders a second chance and better opportunities to become successful and productive members of the community. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz recognizes these strategies can be far more effective at combating substance abuse and the street-level crime associated with it. This smarter approach will also save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
On March 24, 2009, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, attended a press conference regarding inmates and treatment for chemical addiction. Assemblyman Ortiz restated his support to ensure access to treatment services for inmates with a chemical addiction. He also emphasized the importance of prevention services for the children and families that are impacted by incarceration and chemical addiction.
In response Assemblyman Ortiz introduced A.7158, which requires the Commissioner of Correction, in consultation with the Commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, to take steps to ensure that prisoners whose first language is not English are able to access prison substance abuse programs. Such steps may include, but need not be limited to, increased employment of bilingual substance abuse counselors and program staff, translation of program content and materials, targeted programs for non-English speaking prisoners, and other strategies determined by the Commissioner in consultation with the Commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
On June 15, 2009, the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse held a roundtable on the services available for individuals with a heroin addiction. As the field of addiction treatment continues to evolve with the help of research and science, New York State must continually examine the treatment services available for those individuals who have an addiction to heroin. Through this roundtable, the Committee provided a forum for the discussion of services that are currently available and an opportunity to update all participants on the latest research developments in this field.
Parental substance dependence and abuse can have profound effects on children, including child abuse and neglect; injuries and deaths related to motor vehicle accidents; and increased odds that the children will become substance dependent or abusers themselves.
Many studies have demonstrated that parental abuse of alcohol and/or other substances is one of the major contributing factors for the removal of children from their homes and placement in foster care. Too frequently, family rifts lead to a series of negative life outcomes for children and continues the cycle of failure by the parent.
To report incidents of child abuse or neglect, dial 1-800-342-3720. This hotline is operated 24 hours, seven days a week by the New York State Office of Children and Families Services.
If you suspect that someone is a victim of domestic or sexual violence please call 1-800-942-6906 (English) or 1-800-942-6908 (Spanish). This will put you in contact with a 24 hour domestic and sexual violence hotline. This number is operated by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.