Members of the New York state Senate met with community leaders in the Mohawk Valley region Wednesday to get more information on the battle against heroin and opioid addiction.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giordino shared the story of a 39-year-old Johnstown native named Joe, who last month lost his life to addiction, after spending six months in rehab.
“He got out of rehab in New York City, got out of a halfway house, got in a car to come back to Fulton County to Johnstown, got up to Schenectady, two hours from rehab. Got some heroin laced with fentanyl, went into a convenience store bathroom, shot up, died with a needle in his arm on his way home from rehab,” said Giordano. “And I tell you that story, and you’ve heard it from a million parents, probably, and treatment people…that just shows you how when we say addicted they are addicted.”
Giordino was just one speaker appeared Wednesday before the state Senate’s Heroin and Opioid Addiction Task Force at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. He estimated that last year Fulton County saw between 15 and 18 overdose deaths attributed to heroin and opioids, doubling the count from the previous year.
Task Force chair Senator George Amedore said the testimony would help determine the effectiveness of state-funded efforts to combat addiction and to identify areas that need more attention.
Amedore said admissions to state-certified treatment programs are on the rise.
“In Fulton County, 157 admissions in 2015 up to 187 in just the first nine months of 2016. In Montgomery County we saw 255 admissions in 2015, now it’s up to 271 in just the first nine months of 2016,” said Amedore.
Fulton and Montgomery County also have a higher rate of drug-addicted newborns than much of the state.
When it comes to bringing help to those addicted, Carol Greco, Director of Addiction Services at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, said the state must make sure funding is available and programs are sustainable. She is worried about how a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in Washington would impact those seeking help locally.
“So where are they going to get their other needs met if it’s not at Saint Mary’s where we’ll willing to provide some free and subsidized care? We can enroll them in Medicaid or in insurance off the exchange, but what if the exchange is no longer available to people and they’re not eligible for Medicaid? Because they’re the working poor, quite honestly,” said Greco.
Other attention was placed on the need for more funding for prevention programs to educate children as young as kindergarten up through college about the dangers of opioid drugs and other substances.
From a law enforcement perspective, Gloversville Police Chief Marc Porter said the heroin problem has led to used needles being found everywhere from front yards to football fields.
Senator Jim Tedisco asked Porter if increasing a penalty for littering used needles would be beneficial.
“Should there be a penalty for that? An increased penalty?” Tedisco asked.
“I haven’t thought of it as far as littering and increasing that penalty, but it seems to make sense,” said Porter.
The influx of synthetic fentanyl has led to increased overdoses and deaths across the region. Robert Kent, General Counsel for the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, asked the lawmakers to place Fentanyl on the list of Schedule 1 substances in New York.
A bill to do so has previously cleared the Senate but has not passed the Assembly. Senator Fred Akshar asked the audience to take up the charge.
“If we don’t, we don’t give law enforcement the things they need to enforce this particular issue, we’re going to continue to lose people,” said Akshar.