Multi-Agency Agenda Will Include Prevention, Education, Treatment, and Community Engagement Efforts
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a comprehensive statewide plan to combat synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K-2. This multi-agency agenda includes wide-ranging prevention, education, treatment, and community engagement efforts, building upon the Governor’s commitment to add dozens of synthetic cannabinoids to the state’s controlled substances list. These new initiatives will help remove these substances from circulation, raise awareness on the dangers of K-2, and provide additional guidance to healthcare providers on effective treatment and recovery services.
“These extremely dangerous and deadly substances are wreaking havoc in communities across the state, and we are stepping up efforts to ensure these drugs remain off the streets and out of our correctional facilities,” Governor Cuomo said. “With these new initiatives we can further educate the public on the dangers of these drugs while also continuing to ensure that those who bring this scourge into our communities will be held fully accountable.”
“We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all New Yorkers against dangerous substances,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Co-Chair of the NYS Heroin and Opioid Abuse Task Force. “This comprehensive agenda to combat synthetic cannabinoids, or K-2, will support wide-ranging services including education, prevention, and treatment. We want to raise awareness about the dangers of K-2 and other substances, and make sure individuals and families have the resources they need for treatment and recovery.”
K-2 Listening Forums
New York State is launching K-2 Listening Forums in communities across the state that have been impacted by synthetic cannabinoid abuse, such as New York City and Syracuse. These listening forums will include state representatives from the Department of Health (DOH), Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), Office of Mental Health (OMH), State Police, Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), State Liquor Authority (SLA), New York State Gaming Commission, and Department of Tax and Finance.
In order to receive feedback from local stakeholders, these forums will also include synthetic cannabinoid experts, community based organizations, family representatives, people in recovery, and local government and law enforcement officials. One of the central objectives of the listening forums will be to increase public awareness about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids and its association with mental health and substance abuse issues. This process will also enable the State to receive input and guidance from local stakeholders and develop the appropriate solutions to curb K-2 abuse statewide.
Public Awareness and Education
As part of this initiative, the State is launching a targeted public awareness and education campaign focused on educating vulnerable populations about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids. This campaign includes an electronic toolkit that provides a comprehensive suite of educational resources to inform the public about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids, as well as paid media advertising targeted to at-risk locations throughout the state. This initiative will involve multiple state agencies utilizing a comprehensive strategy to reach vulnerable populations and the professionals who serve them, as well as raise awareness within educational communities to reach high school and college level professionals, students, parents, and guardians.
Clinical Guidance for Medical Professionals
The Department of Health, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services have issued joint guidance to healthcare providers, hospitals, off-campus emergency departments, substance use disorder and mental health agencies, and local health departments to provide information on the risk indicators of synthetic cannabinoid intoxication and addiction, and offer guidance for diagnosis and treatment. In addition, the State will launch a targeted initiative to ensure adequate linkage between substance use disorder treatment facilities and harm reduction agencies in areas of the State that have been most heavily impacted by synthetic cannabinoids.
Removing K-2 from Correctional Facilities
K-2 is one of the most common forms of contraband introduced into the prison system due to the fact that it is easily concealable to avoid detection. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has taken aggressive action to enhance their security screening procedures to prevent the introduction of contraband into its facilities. Despite these successes, oftentimes the narcotics intelligence gained through interdiction efforts are not fully utilized to inform outside investigation, arrest, and prosecution efforts in the local communities where the narcotics originated. In order to correct this deficiency, Governor Cuomo has directed DOCCS and the State Police to implement a protocol for the State Police to collect this intelligence and pursue criminal investigations when K-2 and other drugs are discovered in the prison system. As part of this protocol, DOCCS will refer cases to the Narcotics Intelligence Unit at the New York State Intelligence Center to both increase the amount of drug intelligence available to State Police Investigators and enhance the State’s capability to pursue outside investigations to identify and disrupt the sources of K-2 production and distribution.
Additionally, K9 teams have proven to be one of the most effective methods to identify and remove drugs from correctional facilities as well as serve as a deterrent to individuals attempting to smuggle drugs into prisons. To enhance the State’s ability to identify and remove drugs from state prisons, DOCCS has added two K9 teams to its Office of Special Investigations (OSI) Narcotics Unit, bringing the total number of OSI K9 teams to six. These K9 teams are used to search staff, visitors, and packages entering correctional facilities as well as conduct targeted sweeps of areas where K-2 and other drugs are discovered. This investment will supplement existing efforts to remove drugs and other contraband from prisons, including the implementation of new technologies such as Cellsense, a portable contraband detector, and thermal-imaging devices.
Governor Cuomo first banned synthetic cannabinoids in 2012 through aggressive emergency regulations empowering the Health Commissioner to close down stores where the drugs were sold because of the imminent threat they posed to public health. In 2015, the Governor added two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which were unanimously approved by the Public Health and Health Planning Council. In July 2016, New York stepped up statewide enforcement efforts to ensure that businesses fully comply with all applicable laws, including the 2012 emergency regulations banning the manufacture, sale, and distribution of synthetic cannabinoids.
The Governor previously directed the DOH Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, State Liquor Authority, and New York State Gaming Commission to revoke liquor and lottery licenses from stores found to be illegally peddling K-2. The State Police and Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement have also taken aggressive enforcement actions against individuals and establishments targeted to areas of high K-2 distribution. This includes successful arrests, seizures, and closure orders in Central Islip (1,000 packets); Newburgh (111 packets); Rochester (150 packets); and Syracuse and Binghamton (100 packets).
Dr. Howard Zucker, Commissioner of the Department of Health, said, “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State continues to take bold and aggressive actions to protect the public against these lethal substances. These new initiatives will go a long way in protecting New Yorkers struggling with addiction and penalizing those who distribute this poison.”
Michael C. Green, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, added, “Synthetic cannabinoids not only pose a danger to individuals who use them, but to police officers who are often first on the scene of a call involving someone acting unpredictably or irrationally. I look forward to hearing from law enforcement professionals about the ways in which we can work together to assist officers and agencies as they seek to address the use of these substances in their communities.”