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Board Hears Emotional Pleas to Face Heroin Crisis

Written By Editor on 11/18/16 | 11/18/16

The Board of Supervisors met today with several experts to speak regarding the ongoing heroin problem in Schoharie County.

Larry Kossmann-Nelson spoke on behalf of the Middleburgh Area Business Association. He was joined by fellow members Jamie Casterlin and Justin Behan. Kossmann gave an emotional plea to the Board of Supervisors regarding the local heroin crisis. He described his brother Michael's death due to cardiac arrest following several robberies by a heroin addict. Kossmann described the current state of enforcement as “archaic.” He cited a meeting with the Village of Middleburgh and the Sheriff's Department to discuss how to combat heroin abuse. “I strongly urge you all to release funds to the Sheriff's Department” for enforcement. Kossmann recommended the purchase of window clings with the number of the Sheriff's Department's confidential tip line.

Bonnie Post from the Opioid Task Force spoke next with a presentation about drug abuse. She stated that over 100,000 New Yorkers sought opioid addiction treatment, with about 90% of these starting use before the age of 18. Heroin addicts now especially face rural residents and men and women nearly equally. Just between 2013 and 2014 the use of the overdose treatment drug Naloxone increased approximately 50% during EMS calls statewide. Heroin overdose deaths in the state also more than doubled between 2009 and 2013.

In Schoharie County alone treatment for opioid addiction was higher through September 2016 than all of 2015. Between 2010 and 2014 the number of users between 20-29 years old increased by 39% and there was an increase of 32% more users between 30-39. Tina Sweet, the new Commissioner of Social Services spoke about the impact of heroin and opioid addiction on foster care. In the past year local children in foster care has more than doubled, as has CPS reports. In one week alone, Sweet signed nine decisions affecting fifteen children.

Deputy Sheriff Zach Reinhart spoke as a “boots on the ground representative.” Reinhart spoke of the number of overdose statistics. The Sheriff's Department and local state police have both utilized Narcan each six times in 2016. “These are your communities that this is affecting.” The Deputy described law enforcement's assistance to aid with health services for those in immediate need of assistance. Speaking of the rise of heroin addiction in the county, he said, “The thing that surprised me was the who.” Reinhart said that heroin users are not always identifiable.

Overall local overdose calls have stayed largely steady over the last four years. Since 2013, overdose calls for non-heroin causes has fallen dramatically while heroin calls have more than doubled. “You're losing your towns to this disease.” In one recent response, the Sheriff's Department searched a hotel room where two small children were left outside while their parents used. In another situation, a suspected heroin addict was arrested for forging checks as his grandmother to allegedly feed his habit.

“Treatment is the end of the cycle,” said Reinhart. He said that one addict told him, “I would rather die than stop” using. He cited law enforcement as the “vehicle that gets them to the treatment.” Bonnie Post spoke again about the recovery process. She said that often addicts facing health or criminal situations seek treatment but then drop off once the immediate problem is resolved. “There is a wonderful life in recovery,” she added. Ms. Sweet urged all in attendance to to talk to their children about drug use. Norine Hodges of SCCASA mentioned the Surgeon General's report that recent addiction patterns is a “paradigm shift.”

As of right now there has been no response to the Board's letter to the state regarding additional drug funding. Supervisor Chris Tague of Schoharie offered to reach out to Senator Seward and Assemblyman Lopez. Board Chair VanWormer recommended also sending a letter as a whole. Supervisor Dave Simkins of Broome asked if there was a strategic plan to end heroin addiction. Supervisor Larry Bradt of Carlisle said that he hoped President-Elect Donald Trump could help prevent drug flow from Mexico. He also asked if the Sheriff's Department considered using undercover officers to capture drug dealers. “From what I see, it's happening a lot,” he said. Sheriff Desmond said that the topic was discussed at the meeting in Middleburgh and described a similar pattern of drug deals across the county. He described a five year old child finding her mother dead from a heroin overdose. Supervisor Peggy Hait reinforced this idea, requesting an undercover officer. Desmond responded that the Sheriff's Department has been working with the Cobleskill Police Department. He reiterated that such programs require increased funding. Desmond said that Assemblyman Peter Lopez got the Sheriff's Department a $2,500 grant which will be used to expand drug enforcement over the coming year. “It costs a lot of dimes to do this type of work.”

County Administrator Steve Wilson spoke of a process to help curb heroin use in the county. He said that several department heads have recommended shifting funding to directly deal with opioid addiction. Wilson said that SCCASA is among the most effective options to prevent use among young people. He also said that he and the partners in this project will unveil plans over the coming year. Supervisor Tague thanked Wilson and the presenters for their hard work.

Supervisor Pete Coppolo of Middleburgh discussed an issue with insurance coverage that prevents drug and alcohol addicts from being able to stay in rehab long enough to fully recover. Supervisor Simkins said that the Board had to give the Sheriff's Department “ammunition” to assist in their enforcement. Supervisor Bill Federice of Conesville said that “there's a lot more to this than nabbing the person putting a needle in their arm.” He stated that a multifaceted approach was needed, especially to expand surveillance for drug enforcement. Federice said that Schoharie County being so small “everybody knows everybody,” which makes it more difficult to utilize local residents as undercover officers.

Undersheriff Ron Stevens asked residents to help in the effort. If people see something suspicious, writing down license plate numbers and descriptions to call the Sheriff's Department's confidential tip line at 295-2295.

Supervisor Simkins asked if there was a way to send a recommendation for stronger punishments for drug dealers to the state. Supervisor Smith said that it was a good idea and that he would assist. Norine Hodges said that such efforts are helpful and should be followed through. She recommended that retired police could be used to provide inexpensive eyes and ears in communities. Supervisor Tague recommended holding a press conference in Albany to show that “we're serious about this. Maybe the Governor will hear us.”
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