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The growing heroin problem

By Fritz Mayer
April 2, 2014

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Signs of the heroin epidemic in Sullivan County and beyond are everywhere. The police agencies in the county send a seemingly endless stream of notices about heroin-related arrests to local media outlets. At a recent Town of Liberty meeting, resident Terry Bauer sought support for addiction treatment programs and said she was providing shelter to a friend who is dealing with heroin withdrawal; state Sen. John J. Bonacic announced that he is part of a joint task force, which will examine the “alarming” rise of use of heroin and other opioids in New York.

Bonacic said, “The growing epidemic of heroin use throughout New York State is alarming. It transcends regions, race, gender and economic status. We must do everything in our power to help stop this highly accessible and addictive drug from poisoning our communities.”

Ironically, one reason that heroin use is on the rise in New York State is because the state took an effective measure to battle the abuse of prescription drugs, and that pushed many abusers to heroin.

In August 2013, a new law took effect requiring all physicians in the state who prescribe opioids, such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, which are chemically similar to heroin, to check a state database to ensure that patients are not “doctor shopping” and getting multiple prescriptions from different providers.

By most accounts, the new law has driven down the supply of opioid prescription medications and driven up the cost to abusers. Sullivan Couny Sherriff Mike Schiff, in an interview with The River Reporter, said that has had a direct impact on the number of people now seeking heroin.

He said the new law has “made it very difficult to get the pills, so the next thing in line, the cheapest and best high, is heroin. Because it’s cheap compared to the other drugs, it’s the drug of choice right now, that’s what we’re seeing.”

The battle against heroin and other drugs is not new, but neither is it a battle that law enforcement is winning.

Schiff said, “I’ve been in law enforcement for 36 years, and we’ve been in a war on drugs since the time I became a trooper. The end result is heroin is cheaper and more prevalent than when we started. We’re not winning that battle. I think we’ve got to look at alternatives, and I’m not sure what they are, but it’s going to entail partnerships with the schools, mental health providers, drug facilities. We’ve got to take a broader view on this.”