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Niagara Co. Legislature committees to declare opiates a "Public Nuisance"


LOCKPORT -- Niagara County lawmakers are set to declare opioids a "public nuisance" in their county if legislation advances through a series of committee meetings planned for Monday night. That legislation is critical for the county to seek damages under a multi-government lawsuit against opiate manufacturers.

The county's opiate task force, the Opioid Addiction/Overdose Strategy Implementation Standing Committee, or OASIS, will introduce legislation authorizing passage of a local law at 5 p.m. Monday.   It will then advance through the Community Safety and Security Committee, the Community Services Committee, and the Administration Committee before being sent to the full Legislature.

Most of the action regarding the proposed law will take place in Monday's committee meetings, however.

"We are asking for buy-in from the community and from the Legislature's committee chairmen because this is such an important step," explained OASIS Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Wydysh, R-Lewiston. "Prescription opioids have become a public nuisance, but the actual legislative step of calling them that means we can take action."

Wydysh and Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, who authored the legislation with County Attorney Claude A. Joerg and Deputy County Attorney John Ottaviano, spent the weekend working the telephones with fellow lawmakers in an effort to keep the legislation on-track in committee.

"Our taxpayers have been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and this lawsuit is about recouping their losses," Bradt explained. "The declaration of a public nuisance is an important step in advancing that lawsuit, and hopefully making our taxpayers whole."

For Bradt, who wrote the original legislation authorizing the creation of the OASIS Committee, Monday's committee meetings—and a subsequent vote in the Legislature—have the potential to vindicate a personal battle. Bradt became a passionate campaigner in the fight against opiates after his nephew died of a heroin overdose brought on by prescription opiate addiction.

"This is personal, but this is also necessary public policy," Bradt said. "So many families, so much potential, has been wasted by these drugs, and the people who manufactured and marketed them as harmless painkillers and urged their overprescription, they need to be held accountable for the damage that they've done to communities like Niagara County."

Wydysh concurred.

"As a mom, I worry every day about what my kids are coming into contact with," Wydysh said. "How many parents have had to worry—and how many have had their worst fears realized? We're fighting this fight as a matter of public policy, and that has dollar costs, but the human costs have been the worst part."                 

In joint comments, Community Safety and Security Committee Chairman David Godfrey, R-Wilson, Community Services Committee Chairman Rich Andres, R-North Tonawanda, and Administration Committee Chairman Tony Nemi, R-Lockport, promised "robust discussion" in their committees Monday.

"This is a very important conversation for our county to have, but we want to give this a full airing Monday night," Nemi said. "The 'public nuisance' designation is a major policy decision, and requires passage of a local law, so this will mark a major discussion."

The OASIS Committee is also expected to announce planned Narcan administration classes Monday.

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