The state Senate brought its task force on the opioid epidemic to Buffalo Wednesday.
"An epidemic, that is the opioid addiction that has really caused such horrific illness and death throughout our community. We, as a Senate, are working across the state to make sure that we're dealing with this head on," state Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) said.
Advocates and people directly affected by the crisis say it's a welcome stop, but they're calling for more action by the state.
This is the sixth stop on the statewide tour for the Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction and Overdose Prevention. It’s a tour that aims to prevent stories like Marilyn Gentile's.
"He died because the system is broken, and it was a preventable death,” Gentile said.
Gentile’s son died of fentanyl poisoning 24 hours after leaving jail. She's among the group of advocates that gathered before the task force stop.
They applaud the task force for prioritizing the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis, instead of the previous focus on criminal prosecution.
The advocates are urging the state Senate to keep pushing for harm reduction. Rather than just trying to cure people, harm reduction aims to reduce the negative consequences of drug use. Strategies range from medication assisted treatment to supportive housing.
While they applaud the state Senate, they're quite critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They want him to sign a bipartisan bill passed by the Legislature last session which would expand harm reduction measures.
"We know currently that most treatment offered doesn't work, so we need to have more harm reduction-type services offered to people because harm reduction is treatment that empowers people to engage in their own health care,” said Shauna Pratt of Evergreen Health.
“They saved my life by bringing harm reduction into my life,” said James Hill, an opioid addiction survivor. “This is no joke. We’re going to wait for the next person to die, that's when you're going to sign the bill? No more."