Group calls for action to stem rise in drug-related deaths

When Judith Meier looks at photos of her son, Taevan Little, she is reminded of her concern for others.

“He could feel people struggling and he just sat with them,” Meier said.

He always tries to help others overcome their challenges, she said. But behind that smile was someone who was struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

“This photo is maybe six hours before he died,” Meier said, sharing a photo of himself.

In May last year, Little died of an overdose aged 22.

Over the past two years of the pandemic, there has been an increase in drug-related deaths. According to a new report from the Department of Health, there were nearly 5,000 overdose deaths statewide in 2020, a 37% increase from 2019.

On Thursday, Meier joined others affected by this outbreak at the State Capitol to call for passage of two overdose prevention bills. One would decriminalize buprenorphine, while the other would allow safer consumption sites.

“Right now in New York State, we are losing 15 New Yorkers a day to preventable overdose,” said Luke Grandis, lead organizer for VOCAL NY in the state. He is currently recovering from drug use and in remission from his opioid addiction.

Safe Consumption Services has raised concerns among people living nearby due to an increase in drug users in one area. But Grandis argued that it saves lives.

He cited the work being done at the two recently opened overdose prevention centers in New York.

“What you’re worried about, those syringes, people who are outside and using drugs in public, that’s what’s going to go down,” Grandis said.

Both bills are currently in committee, but supporters hope to see the legislation move forward before the end of this session.

For Meier, his goal now is to prevent another overdose death.

“I feel like we’ve tried everything, and the only thing I can say is you can’t force someone to recover,” Meier said.

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