ALBANY – Legislation known as “Stephen’s Law,” sponsored by New York State Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember John T. McDonald III, has been signed into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
The new law, named in memory of Stephen Canastraro, Jr., requires that certified drug treatment programs notify patients of their rights to identify trusted individuals who should be contacted in case of emergency. Also, treatment providers must give people in programs an opportunity to establish what information can be shared with their contacts and what classifies as an emergency or need for contacting family members and friends.
“Stephen’s Law will ensure that residents with Substance Use Disorder have supportive family members, friends or guardians on hand when help is required,” said Harckham. “No life should be lost because of the lack of a line of communication, and this makes it easier for important health-related information to be shared on a timely basis.”
“Passage of this bill is another step forward in the fight against the opioid epidemic. It is a critical measure that will help assist patients in treatment and recovery to prevent more deaths like Stephen’s,” said McDonald.
The new law will require the State Office of Addiction Services and Supports to develop guidelines for protocols to be used by treatment programs in communicating with a patient’s trusted support system.
On the morning of August 24, 2018, Angela Robertson, Canastraro’s mother, went to wake him, only to find him cold and unresponsive. Later, it was determined that he had died of an overdose after testing positive for fentanyl and leaving treatment against the recommendation of his treatment provider.
In the days prior to his death, Canastraro demonstrated warning signs of relapse to his health providers, including missed appointments and drug use. But under the laws at the time, health providers were not required to inform authorized guardians of the relapse signs, and neither Canastraro’s mother nor Save the Michaels of the World, his recovery assistance organization, were notified of his missed appointments or positive drug screens in the days before Stephen’s death.
Stephanie Marquesano, founder and president of The Harris Project, said, “Providing an opportunity for those seeking treatment for substance misuse and / or addiction to identify support delegates, as framed in Stephen’s Law, highlights the importance of connection in recovery. It creates a valuable individualized, person-centered safety net. My 19-year-old son Harris had co-occurring disorders and died by accidental overdose in 2013. My husband and I were actually discouraged from flying to Florida to support our son in his time of need.”