By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — The proliferation of illegal drugs upstate is “truly deplorable,” Delaware County Sheriff Thomas E. Mills said Monday, adding that the “problem will only grow worse if left unaddressed.”
In a statement sent to numerous media outlets, Mills said that several individuals had questioned the wisdom of publicizing drug-related arrests because they might put the community in a bad light.
But Mills said he couldn’t ignore the problem.
“Just closing my eyes is not something I do very well,” he said.
It has been 42 years since President Richard Nixon first talked about a “war on drugs,” and law-enforcement officials says it’s still a war not won.
“We do our part and combat it and make arrests and put it through the court system, and inevitably, someone picks up where the last one left off,” Oneonta Police Chief Dennis Nayor said.
Last week was an especially busy week for the Delaware County Sheriffs Office, with two SUNY Delhi students arrested on marijuana charges and another accused of possessing cocaine with intent to sell. In addition, state police arrested a husband and wife on cocaine-sale charges in the town of Middletown.
Mills blamed much of the problem on outsiders.
“Unfortunately, our rural communities have been exploited by dealers from urban areas looking for a place to carry out their business,” he wrote. “These individuals have taken advantage of our limited law enforcement resources and set up shop, not just here, but everywhere in the upstate region.”
But other sheriffs aren’t so sure.
“Our office has had some high-profile cases, but I guarantee you that the demand is still there, and where there’s demand, somebody is going to take that person’s place,” Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said.
“Some people try to blame it on the colleges … but that’s not the issue,” he added. “There’s a local issue here as well.”
That local issue involves a spectrum of crimes that go beyond violations of drug law, Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting Jr., said.
“It leads to burglaries,” he said. “It leads to larcenies. It leads to driving while intoxicated, whether it for drugs and/or alcohol. It’s still a major problem.”
“Off the top of my head, I’m going to says it’s 75 percent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s higher,” Cutting said when asked how much of general crime could be traced back to substance abuse.
Most of the officials agreed that reducing demand is key.
“I don’t think you can start early enough in some of the schools to emphasize the problems with drugs,” Mills said, citing the toll that drug abuse by parents takes on children.
“We’re trying to do our bit here on the enforcement side of things,” Devlin said. “But we have limited resources, our budgets keep getting cut every year, and the problem’s not going away. There’s mental-health issues, there’s different issues that need to be addressed.”
Legalization is not an answer, according to the officials.
“I personally don’t believe in that, but everything has to be looked at,” Devlin said. “Marijuana is not really the big issue. It’s the harder drugs. They’re getting hooked and addicted to these harder drugs, and that seems to be the bigger issue.”
“I think they’re made illegal for a particular reason,” Nayor said. “When people are under the influence of drugs, they do things they would not normally do and society is less safe when people are under the influence of drugs, and there’s a reason they’re controlled substances.”