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December 17, 2013

Police say heroin is a local crisis

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Low prices and easy access have led to a troubling comeback of the addictive drug heroin, area officials said Monday, with police officials and social workers scrambling to frame responses to the problem.

“We’ve even seen people sell their prescription drugs in order to get money to buy heroin,” said Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond.

Delaware County, is forming a task force to address the issue because law enforcement, on its own, won’tunable to stem the tide, he adknolwedged.

“We can’t pretend it’s not here,” DuMond said. “It’s here.”

When trusted inmates from the county jail in Delhi were assigned to pick up litter along county roads last summer, they often found numerous discarded hypodermic syringes on the roadside, apparently tossed out of vehicles by drug users, he noted.

The Sheriff’s Department had to put a “sharps container” in the van used to transport the inmates so they wouldn’t get punctured by the dirty needles.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would see something like that in Delaware County,” Dumond said.

Some experts said that effective efforts to tighten access to prescription drugs may have prompted some addicts to seek out heroin from street dealers.

“It’s gone from pills to heroin over the past three to five years,” said Chenango County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Richard Cobb. “Pills became harder to get, and heroin became really cheap.”

Police officials said the have noticed a connection between heroin abuse and property crimes committed by desperate addicts trying to finance their habits. When investigators are assigned to work on cases involving bad checks, fraud or thefts, it is not uncommon that the trail leads them to a heroin user, Cobb said.

Meanwhile, deputies will occasionally encounter heroin paraphernalia in homes they enter to investigate domestic violence complaints, he added.

“We’re seeing it everywhere — from the poorest people, to the fairly wealthy,” the lieutenant said. “It really is all over.”.

Rural counties often struggle with a lack of treatment resources, and no doctor in Schoharie County is authorized to prescribe Suboxone (buprenorphine), which suppresses the cravings and withdrawal symptoms from opioids and is an alternative to methadone, officials said.

“We have 60 people in our drug court program now and more than half of them say that their drug of choice is heroin,” said Bonnie Post, director of the Schoharie County Office of Community Services. The number of people assigned to drug court has increased sharply in just the last two years, she said.

“When it comes to figuring out what to do with these folks we are really struggling, because the rate of relapse is so high and it’s difficult getting people into treatment,”Post said.

Last month, some 120 Schoharie County residents turned out for a county-sponsored forum on the challenges the region is facing because of addiction. “People know we have a problem here,” she said.

Earlier this month, Otsego County authorities announced the latest arrest of an alleged drug dealer in connection with a three-year probe called Operation Dial Tone. While the investigation led to a 40-year prison term for one drug kingpin, no one is predicting the scourge is going to go away any time soon.

Cobleskill Police Sgt. Rich Bialkowski said heroin appears to be seeping into the region from such upstate cities as Albany, Amsterdam and Utica.

“Three or four years ago, we had a few arrests for heroin here and there,” he recalled. “But now, it’s pretty frequent.”

In Delaware County, the number of felony drug arrests — fueled by the mushrooming heroin trafficking — increased by 223 percent over the previous year, officials said. And the rate of increase has not let up this year.

The Sheriff’s Department in Delhi has deployed a new K-9 unit German shepherd, Ozzie, to work on drug investigations, and assigned a former road patrol deputy to work on narcotics probes exclusively..

But DuMond said the problem is so complex it is going to take greater collaboration between treatment experts and law enforcement to respond to it.

“We have to work together to do something about it,” he said, “instead of just addressing the symptoms.”