State senators seek answers for heroin epidemic
By Kristin Clark, Oneida Dispatch/Rome Observer
POSTED: 04/16/14, 3:29 PM EDT
UTICA>> Heroin and other opioid addiction is on the rise in New York. On Tuesday, the Senate Joint Task Force held a forum at the State Office Building in Utica.
The panel was led by Senator Joe Griffo and Senator Phil Boyle, who is also the chairman of the task force and Senator Dave Valesky. This was the third of 12 sessions throughout the state, which is designed to brainstorm ideas for legislation that they can take to Albany before the current session ends in June.
Phyllis Ellis, director of the Oneida County Health Department, shared some statistics with the 30 or so people who attended. Last year, in Oneida County alone, there were 12 deaths from heroin overdoses and already in 2014 there have been two.
“Heroin reaches everywhere, there is no one spot and there is no specific age,” Ellis said. “All of the deaths last year ranged from ages 20 to 60.”
Donna Vitagliano, president and CEO of Insight House-a facility that provides chemical dependency treatment, said that 27 percent of people who receive services at the facility are there because of heroin or other opioid addiction.
She urged the senators to bring more education to the area and get a local detox, as most addicts who want to go to a detoxification facility have to travel to Syracuse.
“It is very common that heroin is now a major factor, and the availability of the treatment just isn’t there yet,” Dr. George Kozminski, of Insight House said. “The schools need to get more involved.”
Scott McNamara, Oneida County District Attorney, also brought a different perspective to the opioid discussion, blaming prescription drugs.
“When I started at the DA office in 1992, about one in every ten cases was a heroin overdose, it was not the norm,” McNamara said. “Now it is about fifty percent of the cases we see. Eighty percent of the people on heroin start off on prescription drugs.”
McNamara said that people turn to heroin because it is much cheaper than buying prescription drugs. He said the cost of one hit of heroin is about ten dollars and the cost to get an oxycontin or hydrocodone is twenty dollars.
“The heroin produces a more powerful and lasting high,” McNamara said.
Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol stressed the importance of preventing using the drug.
“We need to reach them before they take the opioids, or stop them at an early stage,” Maciol said. “Jail isn’t the place for addicts, they need treatment.”
Maciol said that his office wants the public to know that they can call to report usage without getting themselves in trouble. Community members can call the Oneida County Sherriff Office at (315) 765-2200.
“We want to be able to save these people’s lives,” Maciol said.
He also added that there is no one specific area that people are affected by heroin.
“We used to be able to tell where it was prevalent, but not anymore,” Maciol said. “Heroin affects all walks of life, it knows no boundaries.”
Maciol said that most of the time there are no warning signs that someone is using an opioid.
There is a heroin education program in the city of Rome called Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education. The program is the only one in currently in Oneida County. It provides education and a test kit for parents who suspect their teens may be using.
Last year, the Rome Police Department made over 40 heroin and prescription drug related arrests.
“This was exactly the type of open exchange we were hoping for,” Boyle said. “This is not the end of the conversation.”
Also participating in the two-hour panel were: Robert Maciol, Oneida County Sheriff; Tara Costello, Director of Substance Abuse, Oneida County Department of Mental Health; Cassandra Sheets, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Family Life & Recovery; Erin Bortel, Director of Prevention Services, ACR Health; Jeanna Marraffa, PharmD, DABT, Upstate Medical University.