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Congressman Maloney Holds Telephone Town Hall On Heroin Addiction

Matthew Kang, flickr

New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney held an emergency telephone town hall Thursday night to discuss the heroin epidemic and prescription drug problem in the Hudson Valley. He was joined by four speakers who offered insight into how they are addressing both the heroin and prescription drug overdose surge in the region.

“I am the heartbroken mother of a beautiful 23-year-old daughter who is a heroin addict. She started with heroin about three years ago. She never took prescription pills. She started straight with heroin.”

She wants to get her daughter some help.

“The one thing that’s always concerned me was how do we get people to treatment. That’s always been the issue. That’s always been the block.”

That’s Martin Colavito, one of the speakers on the call, and though he is across the river from Poughkeepsie in Newburgh, he offered Janice from Poughkeepsie phone numbers and ways to access help for herself and her daughter. Colavito is with TEAM Newburgh, a coalition that works to strengthen collaborations within the community and lower substance abuse among youth.

“What we’re seeing more and more of in Orange County is opiate overdoses and crises among upper-middle-class youth,” Colavito said. “We just… I was talking to one of the people working in Catholic Charities earlier today and we just had another young fellow overdose yesterday.”

As Colavito pointed out, heroin addiction is growing across the country. Massachusetts state police say 185 people have died of heroin overdoses during the last four months, and heroin addiction was the topic of a conference held earlier this week in western Massachusetts. In Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin says heroin and opiate drug addiction is a threat and dedicated his state of the state address to the issue. Here’s fellow Democrat Congressman Maloney.

“It’s been something I’ve been hearing about everywhere I go, and I just think in areas like this denial equals disaster, and we’ve got to talk about it, we’ve got to get smart together as a community,” said Maloney.

His telephone town hall accommodated seven callers, Newburgh City Councilman Curly Dillard among them.

“On the streets of the City of Newburgh, you could pick up heroin at any corner, practically,” said Dillard. “Police officers are strained. We’ve had the FBI in here. They have arrested a number of people, or young men.”

However, he says once one group is taken off the streets, another moves in. He asked Maloney, whose district office is in the City of Newburgh, for the following kind of help, and Maloney responded.

“But I would suggest that, with your assistance, sir, if we could possibly have a citywide or a countywide town meeting to confront these issues head on, bringing all the resources and all the personal who’s involved in this together (Maloney interjects, “yeah, listen, Curly, I think”) so we could jot out a strategy,” suggested Dillard.

“I think it’s a smart idea and I’m happy to do it,” Maloney replied.

Another speaker on the call was Chauncey Parker, director of the New York/New Jersey region of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA - part of a federal program that provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the country.

“Well, I think Curly is 100 percent right which is that you have to get everybody from all different perspectives together, whether it’s countywide or it’s the City of Newburgh, but everybody’s got to be focused together and bringing to the table what they can bring to the table,” Parker said. “I think from a federal perspective and I think from a law enforcement perspective, one thing is for sure is law enforcement isn’t going to solve this problem. They play a role but they’re not going to solve it. But I think that what we can do is to focus particularly on whether there’s violence.”

Maloney says he is working to have Dutchess and Putnam Counties designated as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to gain access to federal resources and further coordination and development of drug-control efforts. It’s a designation Orange and Westchester Counties already have. Maloney says he also supports increasing the availability of naloxone, which speaker Kristen McConnell addressed.

“Something that’s been a hot topic in Putnam County is naloxone, or Narcan, which is an opiate antagonist, which means it’s used to counter the effects of opiate overdose,” said McConnell. “Right now community members have been trained, and we’re continuing to offer these trainings, and our hope is to work closely with law enforcement as well as the healthcare providers like the hospitals.”

McConnell is executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies for Putnam. She says heroin overdoses in Putnam tripled from one year to the next, from six in 2011 to 20 in 2012, mainly among young people. Chief Gerald Schramek of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office was the fourth speaker on the telephone town hall. He noted that some of the drugs coming into Putnam County are being trafficked from neighboring Connecticut. Maloney’s 18th congressional district includes all of Orange and Putnam Counties, and portions of Westchester and Dutchess, including Poughkeepsie.

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