Congressman Nick Langworthy Hosts Roundtable on Fentanyl Crisis and Highlights HALT Fentanyl Act
SOUTHERN TIER, NY (WENY) -- Congressman Nick Langworthy visited the Southern Tier on Thursday, hosting a roundtable to talk about the fentanyl crisis and highlight the federal HALT Fentanyl Act. The HALT Fentanyl Act was passed by the House of Representatives in May and is awaiting approval from the Senate.
"[If it's signed into law], this would take the temporary classification of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances and make them permanently a Schedule 1 narcotic. [This] will help our law enforcement officers to do the job, to get what they need, to not have any of this lapse so that they can't enforce the federal laws as they exist," said U.S. Representative for New York's 23rd District, Nick Langworthy.
The roundtable was hosted at Corning Community College where Steuben County and state officials spoke about the ongoing fentanyl crisis and how it's impacting the community.
"This ongoing issue becomes a morale issue at some point for the officers. It's very frustrating for the officers that are dealing with this issue immediately. We need some relief," said Corning City Manager, Mark Ryckman.
"This is an issue that touches everyone. A lot of people don't want to talk about anything that's going to happen to their family, well it can, and it is. That's why we need to be vigilant on every aspect of it," said New York State Assemblyman, Phil Palmesano.
The Recovery Peer Coordinator and NYS Certified Peer Specialist for AIM Independent Living Center Brandon Beuter said he has a unique perspective on this issue.
“I see the effects of substance use, fentanyl especially throughout the county. There are lots of issues I think need to be talked about and hopefully find some resolution [for it],” said Beuter.
When talking about the bigger picture of fentanyl and opioid overdoses and usage, Beuter said some people view addiction as a moral deficiency, when people should be looking at it as a bigger issue. He said addiction is a combination of mental health and people trying to avoid feeling situations.
“I agree in the beginning it's a choice first. But, how many of us experimented when we were younger? Right? Addiction is bigger than that [and] we need to start looking at it in that way. [We need to] understand addiction and mental health because that's how we get to these places. Law enforcement is handcuffed in a lot of areas. It also handcuffs a lot of the smaller peer services treatment facilities because we lost a large percentage of individuals that went into the jail and then were incentivized to get into treatment,” said Beuter.
Congressman Langworthy said New York State's bail reform law is also hurting the community. He said it allows criminals like drug dealers (up to a certain point) to keep doing what they're doing. Bail reform eliminated cash bail for many non-violent and low-level offenses.
"This fentanyl is so deadly that you may not get a do-over. We're not talking about low-level marijuana charges from times gone by. We're talking about enough to fit in Abe Lincoln's ear on a penny is enough to kill a person. We're not dealing with low-level drugs...This is something that can take people's lives very, very quickly. A bad dose hit the city of Elmira when I was here last week. They had the fire department [deliver] three different doses of Narcan to bring people back from the dead [in one afternoon]," said Langworthy.
Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard elaborated on Langworthy's comments about bail reform, saying it also hurt law enforcement.
“Bail reform affected our programs because under bail reform, unless it’s an A1 Felony, they can’t be held. Even if it’s a B or C Felony, which is frequently what we run into with narcotics dealing, they’re going to be released within three days,” said Sheriff Allard.
Sheriff Allard said people can’t be held on bail unless other factors are involved, and typically those are the people Allard and his team used to reach.
“Those are the folks that would be in until their trial [and] we would get them into treatment, we would get them clean, and then we would get them into recovery. Those folks are not being reached [and] they're just being released. They're right back where they were when they left and they continue until all of the other factors are met. By then, typically their health is very poor. A lot of times their mindset is not that, where they're willing to go into recovery,” said Sheriff Allard.
Sheriff Allard said the jail works with the Steuben County Mental Health Services and Steuben County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. He said they screen people when they come in and they have daily group and individual treatments. Sheriff Allard said the mission is to rehabilitate people, not incarcerate them.
“Nobody's goal is to put people in jail. It's to try and get them to a point where they don't come back. Compliance and rehabilitation is the goal. Our goal is always to try and make sure that someone who is in our jail finds the means and the ability to not return to our jail," said Sheriff Allard.
Sheriff Allard hopes if the HALT Fentanyl Act is passed, it will slow the fentanyl drug trafficking. Sheriff Allard said to decrease the number of fentanyl deaths, it has to be a collaborative effort.
"The lack of treatment facilities in this part of the state could easily be remedied, or at least attempted to be remedied by the federal government. I think funding for that, funding for increased education is always money well spent. A coordinated enforcement teamwork approach where the federal government works with the state and local governments to have an all-hands-on-deck approach to what's coming across our borders and what's coming into our counties and our cities and towns and villages has to happen. I think it's imperative," said Sheriff Allard.