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Panel Discusses Heroin And Opioid Epidemic Impact

Psychonaught/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

The public television station in Plattsburgh brought together a panel of law enforcement, health care officials and legislators to discuss the rise in heroin use and addiction in New York’s North Country. North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley spoke with some of the participants in the “New Face of Heroin” panel.

This week Governor Andrew Cuomo signed 11 pieces of legislation into law addressing some of the heroin, opioid and prescription drug abuse problems occurring across the state. Provisions include improved treatment options, strengthened penalties and additional tools for law enforcement to deal with distribution of illegal drugs, easing barriers for using the overdose antidote naloxone, and public awareness campaign funding.

Law enforcement, political and health officials gathered at the Mountain Lake PBS studios for a panel discussion on the “New Face of Heroin.” Most participants agree that New York’s new laws will help, but aren’t a panacea for the burgeoning illegal drug problems.

Village of Malone Police Chief Chris Premo has found that with the success of I-STOP, enacted in 2012 to combat prescription drug abuse, many prescription drug addicts are turning to opioids like heroin. But the Good Samaritan provision in the newly signed legislation could help.  “The Good Samaritan law is basically if someone’s at a party and there are overdoses and they’re scared to call the police because they’re going to get arrested, they won’t be charged with the drug paraphernalia that’s there. In the last few years the heroin has been really prevalent. And we never saw it before that. It’s overwhelming.”

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne saw the opiate challenge transition as prescription drugs became less available and heroin became a cheaper alternative. “It just hit like a ton of bricks when they finally, truly crimped down on the prescription opioids.”

Champlain Valley Family Center Executive Director Connie Wille says they have seen a rapid increase in the number of people coming into the clinic with a diagnosable opiate disorder.  “Historically we used to see alcohol and cannabis and some cocaine. Right now, during the first quarter of 2014, fifty percent of the folks coming into our agency that are admitted for services have an opiate disorder. That’s unheard of in our history.”

Wille has found that people are turning to heroin for a number of reasons. “The ISTOP has made a big difference because some of the doctor-shopping that was going on previously has stopped. But the dependency hasn’t stopped. And therefore it’s the heroin epidemic that we are now faced with.”

Earlier in the day, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Mike Green held three training sessions in Plattsburgh for law enforcement officers from 11 agencies in the use of naloxone, also known as Narcan. The medication reverses the effects of heroin and opioid overdoses. “This naxolone that we’ve been talking about is just one prong of the approach. In the legislation that just passed for example there’s a requirement that in every one of the naxolone kits there be information provided about optiions in terms of treatment. Part of the legislation that was passed focused on making treatment more accessible and dealing with insurance issues. The naloxone is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle.”

Franklin County DA Derek Champagne is optimistic that the laws the governor signed will help, saying it’s a huge first step.  “The key is not necessarily the bills, but the community. I mean, just getting the community involved and the parents talking to their children and letting their children know this is an horiffic terrible substance that if you use it could forever send you down a path  you don’t want to go.”

The forum on “The New Face of Heroin” will begin airing on Mountain Lake PBS Friday evening and will be available on the station’s website.

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