(Left to right) Allen Bode, Babylon Town Supervisor Schaffer (D), Executive Romaine (R) (Credit – Matt Meduri)

With just weeks remaining on the Albany legislative calendars, local leaders, community stakeholders, and elected and prosecutorial officials are staging yet another push for the State Assembly and Senate to make changes to the State’s laws regarding the ongoing drug epidemic and its associated problems.

Four bills have been drafted in a collaborative effort of state legislators, the substance abuse treatment community, and the families of substance abuse and overdose victims, chief among them being “Chelsey’s Law.”

The proposed legislation would charge drug dealers with either manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter if they knowingly sell an amount of substance that would likely cause the death of a user. The bill is named in honor of Chelsey Murray, a thirty-one-year-old woman from Lake Grove who fatally overdosed on fentanyl in 2022. The dealer, Jaquan Casserly, 34, of Holbrook, was sentenced to ten years in prison earlier this month for his sale of the fentanyl. Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) has consistently called on Albany to pass “Chelsey’s Law” and has even held press conferences and rallies in the capital in support of the bill.

A press conference was held outside the D.A.’s office in Hauppauge Friday morning to call on Albany to act before the legislative session ends in the first week of June. The event was attended by several family members of Long Island overdose victims, including Gene and Sue Murray, parents of Chelsey (pictured left). Other attendees included Dorothy Johnson, of Blue Point, who lost her son Max at the age of twenty-eight and started the “Maxed Out” campaign in his honor; Larry Lamondola, of Wantagh, who lost his daughter Lisa at the age of twenty-five; and Carol Trottere, of Old Field, who lost her son Alex at the age of thirty.

“We are here from State, County, and local levels, just to propose some common sense fixes to our laws to stop people from dying. It’s that simple,” said Allen Bode, Chief Assistant to D.A. Tierney.

“In 2022, the Suffolk County Medical Examiners Office had over four hundred overdoses, and that number is not declining,” said County Executive Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches). “If we’re going to make Suffolk safe and affordable, part of that is making sure that drugs stay out of the system. Most of them come from China and Mexico and are then distributed throughout the United States. It’s time to say that if you’re dealing fentanyl, you’re dealing in death, and if you’re going to deal in death, we are going to make you pay a price for that.”

Romaine says such laws currently do not exist in New York and that the sale of fentanyl carries no bail requirements, owing to the State’s controversial 2019 bail reform laws. Romaine says that bail requirements for fentanyl sales kick in at sales of eight ounces, which is enough to kill 114,000 people.

Babylon Town Supervisor and Suffolk County Democratic Chair Rich Schaffer (D-North Babylon) told the present state legislators to “please tell them [the legislature] to do their job” when they go back on Monday. State legislators present were Senators Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Assemblymembers Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) and Joe DeStefano (R-Medford).

The Assembly bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), co-sponsored by legislators from the Suffolk delegation Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson Station), Michael Durso (R-Massapequa Park), Jarret Gandolfo (R-Sayville), and Keith Brown (R-Northport). On the Senate side, the bill was sponsored by Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), and co-sponsored by Suffolk Senators Mattera and Murray.

“We on Long Island are tired, we’re tired and exhausted from being told that we’re the crazy ones,” said Schaffer. “This comes from us, Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Independents from Long Island, who are exhausted and tired of going to wakes and funerals: do your job. Let’s protect our community, Democrats, Republicans, Americans all, New Yorkers all.”

Gene Murray, the father of Chelsey, spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.

“This isn’t about my daughter’s name. It’s about all the thousands of people who have been killed and drug dealers get out, slap on the wrist, and start selling again, and the thousands of people that this might save in the future,” said Murray. “If they don’t stop these people from just being turnarounds, we’re going to have more and more deaths in the thousands.”

Murray posed a question to Albany leaders not in favor of the bills: “Are they out to protect the dealers, or are they out to protect the lives of their constituents who need these laws?”

The press conference is one in a series of rallies held by local leaders in hopes of lobbying Albany to pass multiple, apart from Chelsey’s Law. Other measures include allowing families of overdose victims access to the Crime Victims Fund, which would cover the cost of funeral expenses; designating xylazine (Tranq) as a controlled substance; and rewriting bail laws to allow prosecutors to request bail for dealers who sell any amount of fentanyl deemed to be fatal, not just the eight-ounce threshold.

Xylazine, a pain reliever and sedative used for cattle, has earned the street name “Tranq” for its euphoric properties and enhancements when used with other drugs, namely fentanyl. Because xylazine is not a controlled substance, drug dealers have cut other street drugs with xylazine to expand profits. Not only is xylazine known for rotting users’ flesh, but victims who overdose on the substance cannot be revived with Narcan, as they can in the case of fentanyl overdoses. The ever-growing presence of xylazine in the drug pool contributes to the already-staggering amount of overdose deaths seen from the highly-toxic fentanyl.

Senator Murray, a vocal advocate of making xylazine a controlled substance, said that he consulted with farmers and veterinarians to properly craft a bill that would still allow them access to the needed medicine.

“Assemblyman Stern and I worked very hard to do this right. We spoke to the Farm Bureau and veterinarians associations and teamed up with them to see what we would need to do to ensure they would still have access to this useful drug, while keeping it out of the hands of drug dealers and away from human beings” said Senator Murray. “It’s no different than Oxycodone; it can be used for good, but when you abuse it, it is deadly. It’s a controlled substance.”

Murray also said that Governor Kathy Hochul (D) put the xylazine legislation into her executive budget over the winter, but leaders in the Assembly and Senate removed it. He said their concerns were over “access issues,” despite the bipartisan craftsmanship of the bill centered around ensuring access in appropriate settings.

“Not only have we not made progress, but it looks like we’ve taken a step backwards,” said Murray. “We’ve got three weeks left. We’re going to be fighting, scratching, clawing, doing everything we can to move these bills and get them done so we can save lives, because it is about saving lives.”

Both the Assembly and Senate versions of Chelsey’s Law and accompanied legislation remain respective committees of the chambers.
In closing, Bode said that other states are “ahead” of New York in terms of similar legislative initiatives, and that “we need to catch up. We’re not where we should be.”

The press conference was also attended by Suffolk County Legislators Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville), Dominick Thorne (R-Patchogue), Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters), Jim Mazzarella (R-Moriches), and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), as well as a representative for Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point). Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Center Moriches), Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), and a representative for Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) were also present, as well as law enforcement personnel and various union representatives.

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Matt Meduri has served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Messenger Papers since August 2023. He is the author of the America the Beautiful, Civics 101, and This Week Today columns. Matt graduated from St. Joseph's University, Patchogue, in 2022, with a degree in Human Resources and worked for his family's IT business for three years. He's also a musician and composer with his sights set on the film industry. Matt has traveled all around the U.S. and enjoys cooking, photography, and a good cup of coffee.