“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”
-Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater
“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”
-William Shakespeare, Othello
The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and a rash of overdoses across the Northeast due to tainted heroin has put the drug in the spotlight. Last month, Saugerties Police Chief Joe Sinagra said that although the department has no reason to believe drug use has increased in Saugerties, narcotics would be a priority for the department this year. Sinagra became chief in April of 2012 after a short stint as deputy chief, the same post he held at the Town of Ulster Police Department.
What kind of drugs are you seeing in Saugerties? How does that compare to the past in Saugerties or to other towns in the area?
We see Molly [MDMA, a mildly psychedelic stimulant], we see heroin, we see cocaine; we don’t see as much crack as we used to back in the day. The synthetic drugs have seemed to wane off. When I first came here, that was a hot topic and there was a lot of it around. But there was such an overwhelming response to it that for the most part it’s now nonexistent. On a day-to-day basis we’re seeing all the normal things that every community is seeing. What we’re lucky about here in Saugerties is that we don’t see it with the same frequency that some communities are experiencing it.
How have the trends changed in drug usage?
Well, I can tell you that back when I was working undercover, the big thing was cocaine. And then after several years on the job it moved into crack and that was a problem for years. These things are very cyclical. Where heroin was taboo to do, it seems all of a sudden since 2007 heroin has been on a slow climb. And predominantly between the age group of 15-24, that’s where they’re seeing a significant increase in overdoses. The other age groups have actually shown a decrease in overdoses, though usage has increased. These are numbers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Does your experience in Saugerties bear out those trends?
I think if you took a look at it per capita we’re probably on the low end, which is good. You ask a difficult question, because the real question is, have we had drug overdoses here in our community? Yes. Have we had a high frequency of drug overdoses in our community? The answer is no. Can I say that heroin is not out there? I’m always careful when treading there because we may be missing something. We try to do a good job with what’s going on drug-wise in our community. Maybe we’ve been lucky and we just haven’t gotten hit with the overdoses so I don’t want to say it’s not here as heavily as it is in other areas, but we seem to not be having the overdoses they’re having in other areas. So I’m hoping that’s an indication that it’s not being used as readily here.
But even if it’s on the low side, if the area as a whole has seen a big increase in heroin since 2007, that would suggest Saugerties has, too.
Here’s the hard thing, because when they combined the two [police] departments together [in 2011] there were a lot of records that weren’t obtainable. So prior to two years ago I have no idea what the numbers look like. So that would really be hard for me to make a statement like that.
I guess what we have to take a look at is in my two years here, although we’ve experienced some drug overdoses, off the top of my head, they were prescription drug overdoses. I don’t recall having one that was directly related to heroin usage.
What about prescription opiates?
I would say there’s no doubt that’s been on the upswing. That’s why we went through this whole effort in Ulster County to get grant money so that we could secure med returns in every police station in the county. [Sinagra also heads the Ulster Prevention Council.] And we’re happy to boast that we have more med returns in Ulster County than they have in other counties right now. And that was driven by the fact that there was abuse of prescription drugs. There were a couple of deaths that occurred down in Ellenville. Unfortunately sometimes it takes a tragic event to drive government to take action.