After a month to think of answers, the candidates for the NY 52 State Senate District have finally decided upon plans for addressing the heroin epidemic plaguing the Southern Tier and much of the Northeastern States. Both Democrat Barbara Fiala and Republican Undersheriff Fred Akshar presented plans on September 17, 2015 to a question first asked by the Binghamton Political Buzz atombash.com on August 18, 2015.
It was on August 17, 2015 that President Obama first announced a joint task force of healthcare professionals and law enforcement to target and combat the growing heroin use in the US. The need is apparent as over 1500 bags of heroin have been recovered in arrests just in 2015 alone in the Binghamton, New York area alone. In 2014 alone 41 people died of heroin overdoses as stated by Binghamton Mayor Rich David in March 2015, as we reported in August. Nationwide deaths due to heroin overdoses have quadrupled, and heroin users have increased by 62% in the past decade.
In August, we requested comments on the task force, with the exact following questions:
- Do you believe that using health records will help to stop heroin trafficking (or any drug for that matter)? If so, please describe how you think it would help.
- Do you believe that this violates 4th Amendment rights, or HIPPA legislation?
- Since you are running for the 52nd State Senate seat, if you were in office right now would you support or oppose this program? Please explain why.
- As a State Senate member, if elected, are there any initiatives or programs that you seek to promote/expand/create to help combat heroin and other illegal drugs in NY State?
We failed to receive a response from Barbara Fiala or her campaign. We reached out to Denver Jones and Richard Purtell, who at the time were potential contenders for the State Senate seat, and they too failed to respond. We did receive a response from Fred Akshar, which was, in part,
“… I’m convinced that strong enforcement alone cannot solve the problem, without ensuring access to more education, prevention and treatment… side by side with law enforcement and treatment experts to ensure that they have the resources we need to face the problem…”
Virtually 30 days later, the Fiala and Akshar campaigns both have somewhat different views on this same hot button issue, that has only grown in the interest of voters since we asked our questions. In that time, Barbara Fiala has made this statement on the subject, as provided to WBNG on September 17, 2015,
“I agree we cannot arrest our way out of this problem and my plan addresses this crisis comprehensively. I believe that I am the more qualified candidate to deliver on funding for treatment and prevention programs and I am laser focused on a root cause of drug addiction, which is a lack of good jobs and economic opportunity in the Southern Tier.”
It should be noted that while the quote from Barbara Fiala mentions a plan, the article mentions no details of the plan. Review of FialaforSenate.com equally fails to mention any reference to a plan to combat heroin, or even the issue as a campaign platform.
Undersheriff Akshar also had growth to his description of his original position. He is cited in the same WBNG article as having developed a 3-point plan that focuses on treatment of addicts, education to prevent new addicts, and arrests of “kingpins” dealing the drug. There appears to be no substantive difference in the quote made in August and the details provided to WBNG in September 2015. Undersheriff Akshar does have statements on his website, FredAkshar.com, about heroin and other issues. As of September 17, 2015, there is an article that outlines a more detailed plan on the website.
We are still awaiting a response from the Akshar campaign on a date for interview promised by Fred Akshar directly in July. We are still awaiting any response from the Fiala campaign. Any response on our questions, from either candidate, will be published verbatim after being received.