Fentanyl Transdermal System patch. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The New York state health commissioner will have the authority to add to the state controlled substances list new drugs that are added to the federal schedule, under a 30-day budget amendment that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced.

The move also will add 11 fentanyl analogs, which are drugs that are substantially similar to fentanyl, to the state controlled substances schedule—actions that, according to the governor, will support law enforcement’s efforts to stop the spread of lethal drug abuse in New York.

“Make no mistake: Fentanyl is potent, dangerous and its abuse is increasingly fueling the misery of the opioid epidemic,” Cuomo said in a news release. “These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable and helping ensure that our laws are able to keep pace with this evolving public health crisis.” The release from the Department of Financial Services, which regulates banks and insurance companies in the state, helps close a loophole in state law that left the 11 fentanyl analogs off the controlled substances schedule.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last November said it also would classify fentanyl analogs in the same category with heroin.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine that typically is used to treat advanced cancer pain and prescribed in the form of skin patches or lozenges. Illegally made fentanyl, often mixed with heroin or cocaine, has been increasingly abused in the United States and linked to most fentanyl-related overdoses and death, the CDC said.

In New York, fentanyl analogs increasingly have been found pressed into pill form to resemble name-brand prescription opioids, and in heroin and cocaine sold in the state, according to the state Department of Health. A preliminary analysis conducted by the agency identified more than 2,900 opioid-related deaths among state residents in 2016. Staten Island saw a 700 percent increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl—from seven deaths in 2015 to 58 deaths last year—while statewide, the number of fentanyl-related deaths increased by nearly 160 percent in 2016.

The 11 dangerous fentanyl analogs added to the state controlled substances list will be scheduled as Class I, the most highly regulated types of prescription drugs. Current Class I scheduled substances in New York include opiates such as codeine and heroin, hallucinogenic substances such as ecstasy and LSD, and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Certifying that the state health commissioner may add to the state controlled substances schedule any new drugs that have been added to the federal schedule allows the state to regulate the substances more vigorously.

These two new actions are the latest in Cuomo’s institution of policies designed to continue the state’s fight to end its prescription opioid and heroin addiction epidemic. Past measures include limiting initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain from 30 to seven days and expanding insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment.