North Country News
6:30 pm
Fri April 25, 2014

Senate Task Force On Heroin And Opioid Addiction Holds Hearing In Plattsburgh

Senator Betty Little (left) and Senator Phil Boyle at Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction hearing in Plattsburgh
Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

The New York State Senate created a Task Force on Heroin on Opioid Addiction in mid-March. Members have been holding forums across the state.

The Senate Task Force on Heroin on Opioid Addiction heard from law enforcement officials, health, psychology, and addiction treatment specialists at the Clinton County Government Center.

All noted a significant spike in heroin use and addiction in the past five years and a decline in the age of addicts.
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie explained that in Clinton County, bags of heroin cost about $25, while downstate they run about $10 to $15.  He is prosecuting dealers from downstate who travel to the North Country to double their profits.  “How can we impose greater sanctions or penalties on these individuals? That’s one thing that we have to look at legislatively, to raise the penalties.”

Addiction counselors testified that there is a lack of services available to those seeking treatment in the North Country. Conifer Park Counselor Joseph LaCoppola criticized current state regulations that limit methadone treatment clinic capacity.  “I believe it’s unethical to have to tell someone who is wanting treatment today that ‘Sorry, we have no available spots, but we’ll be happy to put you on a waiting list.’ No other medical profession that treats anyone for any diseases has a license capacity. I’m asking for legislative action to eliminate census capacity for all methadone treatment programs immediately.”

Champlain Valley Family Center Executive Director Connie Willie works with those in recovery. Sitting next to her was Jack, a recovering addict who has overdosed four times. He described how difficult it is to stop.  “Today I am nine months and three weeks clean. It is the longest period of time I have been clean since the age of 12. Connie told me that talking here today may help with the addiction policies in New York. If there is anything that can be done to reduce the stigma for families and addicts, then I will be glad I did this today. Too many people are dying from addiction. Please do not judge them and find a way to help them.”

Shawn McKeen first became addicted to hydrocodone and the euphoria it generated. He told the Senators staying off drugs is a lifetime challenge.  “It never goes away. I still crave it. I still think about it. I still miss it. Even knowing the devastation it’ll cause in my life, even knowing that to use is to die, I still think about it. I still fantasize about it. I still miss it. And the worst part is that it’s everywhere up here. It’s so easy to get. No matter how good a job these guys do with locking people up, you see people that are coming up, it almost seems by the busload,  from places like Albany and the City that are preying on the weak. I think it would really help this area if we had an inpatient rehab facility.”

Task Force Chair Senator Phil Boyle says similar problems have been raised at previous hearings, including insurance barriers. Unique to the North Country, he notes, is treatment availability.  “Hearing testimony today about people having to travel two hours or more to get treatment when they truly needed it, that’s a huge problem. It’s something we’re going to have to look at and I tink it would be done budgetarily.”   

Fifteen hearings are being held across New York. The forums are being recorded and can be viewed on the NYS Senate YouTube channel.

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