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New York lawmakers announce measures to confront heroin epidemic

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers announced a deal on Wednesday on a series of bills to help address the state's growing heroin epidemic.

The agreement includes provisions that will increase penalties for the distribution of illegal drugs, make it easier for addicts to get treatment, and create a public awareness campaign.

"Denial is not an option and we should not deny the problem we currently have with heroin. It is growing. It is growing exponentially," said Cuomo, who called the bill his top priority for the current legislative session, which ends on Thursday.

The Democratic governor said New York now accounted for one-third of all heroin seizures made in the country.

With the session winding down, it was not clear if a series of bills seen as liberal priorities, including medical marijuana, a ban on gay conversion therapy and a minimum wage increase, would be brought to a vote in the state Senate, where a breakaway group of Democrats have a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.

In some cases, the bills are seen as potential casualties of a power struggle in the state capital. Republicans are fighting to maintain their control of the Senate, and Cuomo, who is up for re-election in November, faces mounting pressure to help restore his party to power in that chamber

Jason Elan, a spokesman for the Senate's independent Democratic conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans, said the bills remained "under negotiation."

The medical marijuana bill, which would allow doctors to prescribe the drug to a limited group of severely ill patients, has met opposition not just from Senate Republicans, but from Cuomo.

Advocates and the bill's sponsors say negotiations with the governor are continuing.

A bill to protect minors from practices aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity, which was passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on Monday, also faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Just two other states, California and New Jersey, have passed a similar bill.

A proposed increase in the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $8, which was introduced by Cuomo, might also die in this session.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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