Teleconference: How New York Can Become National Model by Shifting Drug Policy from a Criminalization-Based to a Public Health-Based Approach

Press Release April 18, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Andrew Martin: 212-822-7285</p>

What:             Press Teleconference about the Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy
When:             Tuesday, April 23, 2013 11 a.m. EST / 8 a.m. PST  

Assemblyman Karim Camara – Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus (invited)
David Soares, Albany County District Attorney (confirmed)
Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, Senior Vice President for Policy and Planning NYAM (confirmed)
gabriel sayegh, New York State Director, DPA (confirmed)
Evergreen Association, provider of treatment, health, and harm reduction services in Buffalo (invited)
New Yorker from Long Island who can speak from personal experiences (confirmed)
Community based organization in Buffalo (invited)

Location: Please call Tony Newman for details (646-335-5384)

Click here for an audio recording of the teleconference.

Blueprint report and executive summary available on demand. Please contact Tony Newman (646-335-5384) or Andrew Martin: 212-822-7285

New York – A comprehensive new report, Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy, by The New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance presents wide-ranging recommendations to implement a public health-based approach to drug policy, calling for strong, effective leadership to make change. The report demonstrates how New York’s drug policies remain split between two different and often contradictory approaches – criminalization and public health– despite the historic 2009 reforms of the punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The report is being issued almost 40 years to the day after Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which exemplified the “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key” approach that was adopted nationwide in the ensuing decades, leading the U.S. to incarcerate more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. The report describes in detail how the state can once again be a model for the nation, this time for a more equitable, cost-effective, and evidence-based approach.  

In a historic shift unthinkable just a decade ago, the White House and many elected officials from both sides of the aisle now agree that drug policies must shift toward a public health approach, reflecting 20 years of evidence and public opinion polls finding that more than three-quarters of Americans believe that the enforcement-focused “war on drugs” approach to drug use has failed. Yet this policy shift has proved to be easier said than done, as both federal and state budgets continue to emphasize enforcement, prosecution and incarceration, and the will to bring about effective change remains stuck within the complex web of policies entrenched in every state and locality.

The Blueprint is informed by extensive research, including 25 community consultations around the state with 500 New York residents, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, healthcare providers, victims, advocates, young people, housing and mental health providers, legal experts, educators, and others, who described how drug use and drug policies affected them and their neighborhoods – and what should be done to move the state forward.

The report includes a detailed list of recommendations for action that will move New York State and New York City from a criminalization to a public health and safety approach to drug policy. Recommendations include:

Convene policy-makers and agency officials across sectors to examine and coordinate implementation of a unified approach to drug policy. New York’s drug policies needs to statewide coordination of policies and funding allocations in order to prevent policies and practices that work at cross-purposes. Agencies including criminal justice and health need to establish shared goals and performance measures.

Expand drug prevention to include targeted, community development. We must work to increase access to education and jobs in communities most affected by drugs and at greatest risk of being left behind.

Improve drug education for members of the public as well as professionals. Drug education needs to be based on solid evidence, provide accurate information about different drugs, and offer youth, parents, and professional tools to effectively prevent and address drug use.

Adopt an integrated, fully accessible, recovery-oriented drug treatment system. Drug treatment should integrate all service needs and create multiple entry points so that people can access the treatment model they need. The criminal justice system should not be the primary point of access for drug treatment, policies that punish people for drug use and relapse must be replaced with effective systems that help people receive support across sectors.

Create meaningful engagement and collaboration opportunities between police and community. Efforts must be made to improve relationships between police and communities and to better involve community leaders and residents in addressing problems of crime and violence in their neighborhoods.

Reduce drug-related injury and overdose deaths. Drug use or dependency should not be a death sentence. New York must increase availability of naloxone, a life-saving drug overdose reversal medication, and build on success of the 911 Good Samaritan law by educating the public and public agencies about  overdose prevention. Syringe exchange is also critical to preventing the spread of blood-borne infections and promoting access to health care and should, therefore, be expanded and supported by agencies, including law enforcement.

Ensure the full implementation of the 2009 Rockefeller Drug Law reforms.  The state needs to improve funding, enhance statewide coordination and oversight, increase the number of screenings, and provide training for judges to realize the promise of the 2009 reforms.

Fix New York’s broken marijuana possession law:  Marijuana has been decriminalized since 1977, yet the NYPD uses a loophole to arrest tens of thousands of people every year – mostly young people of color.

Reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by utilizing Racial / Ethnic Impact statements. Like economic or environmental impact statements, racial and ethnic impact statements are tools of good governance that can help lawmakers determine—in advance – if a proposal is likely to have an unwarranted disparate impact on a particular racial or ethnic group.

The New York Academy of Medicine advances the health of people living in cities. An independent organization since 1847, NYAM addresses the health challenges facing the world’s urban populations through interdisciplinary approaches to policy leadership, innovative research, evaluation, education, and community engagement. For more information, please visit

The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation’s leading organization working to promote drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. For more information, please visit

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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