Press Statements

Victory for Overdose Prevention: After Years of Fighting, VOCAL-NY Celebrates Gov. Hochul Signing Bills to Expand Access of Lifesaving Treatment to Jails & Prisons and Decriminalize Syringes

October 7, 2021


Thursday, October 7, 2021


Jasmine Budnella,

Mariah McGough,


Signings are Step Towards Reversing the Negligence of the Cuomo Administration on the Overdose Crisis

NEW YORK — Today, Governor Hochul made history by signing the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in prisons and jails bill (S1795/A533) making New York the largest, and most comprehensive program in the country, and will begin to turn the tide on preventable overdoses across the state. The Governor’s signature on the bill to decriminalize syringes and expand access in pharmacies (S2523/A868) will begin to reverse the harm caused by the Cuomo administration and ensure that New Yorkers will have more access to these public health tools and not be criminalized for possessing them. Signing these bills into law couldn’t come at a more urgent time, as more than 5,100 New Yorkers died from a preventable overdose just last year.

But, Governor Hochul must continue this momentum, and truly set her administration apart from Cuomo. VOCAL-NY will continue to call on her to urgently sign the bill to remove prior authorization for MAT under Medicaid — which was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and will finally end the two-tiered treatment system in New York.

“As people who have experienced torturous withdrawal inside jails and prisons, and have been arrested for syringe possession — we are elated that Governor Hochul has taken this necessary step towards ending the overdose crisis by signing these two bills,” said Leaders from VOCAL-NY’s Users Union. “But our fight is far from over. Black and Brown New Yorkers continue to face barriers to life saving medication and are criminalized for their drug use at disproportionate rates to those of white New Yorkers. It is our hope that Governor Hochul will make sure that these bills are implemented properly, and continue to lead New York on the path to end the racist and classist war on drugs that fuels our devastating overdose crisis.”


VOCAL-NY has worked for years to see the possession of syringes decriminalized and ensure people have access to Medication Assisted Treatment while incarcerated. This past legislative session, members and leaders from VOCAL-NY’s Users’ Union met with lawmakers and rallied to see this legislation pass both chambers of the statehouse. By June, three of VOCAL-NY’s priority overdose prevention bills had passed and then would head to the newly-appointed Governor Hochul’s desk.

Decriminalizing and expanding access to syringes will finally bring the criminal law in line with New York’s public health law. Despite New York State Health Department supporting syringe service programs, New York’s draconian law puts people at risk of being arrested for simply possessing syringes and limits the number of syringes people can purchase at a pharmacy.During the height of the pandemic, as overdoses surged, Governor Cuomo’s withheld funds to syringe service programs which resulted in staff furloughs and a manufactured syringe/supply shortage that led to HIV clusters in areas of the state, and an increase of new hepatitis C infections across the state. This disparity ends immediately under the new law.

Establishing a medication assisted treatment program for people who are incarcerated will save lives. Under the newly-signed legislation, people who are incarcerated will have access to treatment at any point of their incarceration, receive treatment for the entirety of their incarceration, and receive a collaborative reentry strategy to continue their life saving medication in the community. With overdose is the leading cause of death for people with a substance use disorder following their release from incarceration, and New York State are being forced into inhumane withdrawals, this new law will prioritize the health, and dignity of those incarcerated across our state.


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