Hugh Reynolds: Drug wars

Heroin addicts put their syringes in trees to keep anyone from stepping on them. (Photo: Thomas Marthinsen via Flickr)

Heroin addicts put their syringes in trees to keep anyone from stepping on them. (Photo: Thomas Marthinsen via Flickr)

It should come as no surprise to those reading the police beat, or more sadly, obituaries, that we have a serious problem with heroin addiction in our communities. A year ago, Ulster County Legislature Chairman John Parete appointed a citizen coalition to look into the problems and causes, and offer recommendations. The commission, headed by former legislature chairman Lou Klein, reported to the legislature last week. “We cut through a lot of mustard,” Parete said of the Ulster Coalition Against Narcotics (UCAN).

The report, which is on the county legislature website, speaks for itself. More compelling than its carefully researched statistics and charts was the testimony of two mothers who lost sons in their early 20s to heroin addiction. It wasn’t just the death of a son who one woman called “my hero,” but the frustration and despair of dealing with insurance companies, public-health bureaucrats and treatment programs that only made things worse. It was in every sense every parent’s worst nightmare.


The panel met monthly for over a year, with subcommittees holding discussion sessions with stakeholders and conducting interviews in-between.

One of the group’s first meetings was to brief County Executive Mike Hein on its   objectives. Said Klein, “Right at the outset Mike made it clear this was not his coalition. (None of Hein’s staff were named to the commission.) He understood we were (unanimously) appointed by the legislature, that we would be advisory to them and that we would direct our efforts only to policy and budget items. He said he would administer that policy in his administrative role as executive. Of course, how he does that is up to him.”

Point taken, tender toes avoided. “We were careful not to get into a war back and forth and limited ourselves to policy and budget issues,” Klein added. He said that the coalition interviewed at length Hein’s health commissioner and her two deputies on what the coalition determined to be “a public health crisis.”

While not commenting directly on the commission’s report, Hein was quoted as expressing sympathy for the families and victims of heroin addiction. Parete and UCAN have been hoping for something more in terms of budget support.

Hein can’t be blamed for treading carefully here. Having downsized and privatized the county’s mental health services operation, he could be faced with an enormous build-back to address what the Klein commission saw as a growing epidemic. Some legislators might posit that these issues could be better addressed by deep-pocketed state and federal agencies.

Parete expects to forward legislation in October to address the report. Given the weight of the report’s issues in terms of policy and potential financial impact, it is unlikely definitive action will be taken before early next year.

Might a (presumably) re-elected Hein, the vocal advocate of making Ulster the healthiest county in the state, embrace this legislative initiative in his annual state of the county message next winter? Will he lobby state and federal representatives for help?

This is one area where politics should not prevail.

Pick your battles

Round one of what is shaping up as a county executive slugfest between incumbent Democrat Mike Hein and Republican challenger Terry Bernardo goes, on points, to Hein.

I know the exec says I never write anything good about him, but on this one he’s the clear winner.

First of all, Bernardo, a former legislature chairman, foolishly challenged Hein on one of his strong suits: county finance. Secondly, he happens to be right on almost every point. Last, but hardly least, other than the tax bills they get in the mail, county finances rank somewhere near the bottom with campaign finance reform with most voters.

At issue was a resolution passed by the legislature and vetoed by Hein that would allow the chairman of the legislature to appoint a committee that would select an accounting firm to audit county finances on behalf of the 23-member legislature. The county charter already requires a separate professional audit of county books by the executive branch. Some legislators saw this as a check-and-balance issue, others as an expensive duplication.

The legislation allowed the chairman to appoint three members of a five-member audit committee, thus giving him control. The minority leader would have two appointees. The county executive and county comptroller would both have been non-voting members. The legislature failed by two votes to override Hein’s veto at session last week.

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

In a testy exchange, Bernardo accused Hein of bullying the legislature. The executive termed her views electioneering by a desperate candidate. He’s right about the electioneering part. There is an election this fall, after all. Bernardo will not so easily discouraged by slings and arrows launched in mid-September. Desperation sets in about a week before the polls open when your pollster advises buying a bus ticket.

On its merits, the proposed legislation was bogus in allowing an appointed committee, even one comprised of legislators, to have authority over the full body. Sending it to voters for final approval in November, as recommended in the failed legislation, amounted to painting lipstick on a pig.

Just for laughs

Most county legislative debates have lighter moments. How about Ken Wishnick of New Paltz declaring he was “doing the right thing” and then voting the opposite way on the audit committee proposal? Wishnick, soon to retire after two terms, spoke in favor of the Hein veto but then, to loud guffaws, voted to override it. After a quick red-faced reversal, he claimed it had all been intentional. Few bought it.

There are 2 comments

  1. nopolitics

    Addiction to local politics can be more destructive, but sometimes it takes years to see the full effects of this destruction. Thus, preventive strategies are not presented, and closing the barn door after the horse went out isn’t very effective either. Mix addiction to local politics with another serious addiction such as alcoholism, and you can have a type of trouble that even “horse” can’t replicate–and the effects can last, through last wills and testaments–through succeeding generations. I see however from the other publication, that they are making Saugerties High School into a disseminator of mental health industry propaganda from NYU. Lovely–as if this area was not already challenged in terms of how we treat each other, or how the folks from NYC come up here with their mental schmental industry pill addiction, so as to prop up what little economy is left here on the altar of supposedly doing good. But–enrollment in the Democratic Party soars, so Dems feel that “Bern” way more than for Sanders.
    I know, some people may think I am on my “high horse” when I say that here, but that’s only because they haven’t walked in my moccasins, put on my spurs, or saddled up that horse like I have.

  2. nopolitics

    Let me expound upon that prior comment as well. The mental illness industry(which is what it is and the concept it promotes)is far too lucrative to entrust a decent concept like mental “health” to. This is especially true of government funded agencies, which typically have little to no incentive than to promote more government incompetence–and we are living in an era of genuine “medical kidnap” as a matter of government and medical industry collusion, all for the Almighty Dollar to be gained by the industry, of course.
    Seriously reform–and I do mean seriously–the mental illness industry, top to bottom, to make it into something that has so much as a decent SHOT at promoting mental health in some affirmative and effective manner–and THEN I listen. Before doing so–it is only more of the same industry-driven hogwash.
    The most effective tool at promoting wellness and an anti-drug addiction/anti-addiction culture is most certainly not the mental illness industry(which promotes a drug culture, only in a different way and different drugs). Instead, the most effective way yet found to accomplish this is through Al-Anon and Narc-Anon. But the INDUSTRY doesn’t PROFIT from Narc-Anon and Al-Anon(at least not directly, and getting those bucks is what it’s all about). And whether you privatized the mental illness delivery system that used to be entirely publicly financed previously or not, the same problem remains, which is piss-poor delivery system design and piss-poor philosophy and economics driving the INDUSTRY.
    Viewing the history of Psychiatry itself is an “awakening” fit for the term:Walter Freeman and his lobotomy machines, electroshock machines, insulin shock “treatments”, straightjackets and other restraints and various and sundry skullduggery. Much of that has been replaced, say the true believers, by relatively “humane” treatments(defined as “less of a torture”, just ask Judy Garland, oh we can’t…the industry did her in, shucks…)so on this basis we’re just supposed to accept all this skullduggery for profit in the name of the Almighty American Dollar Portfolios, in a system devoid entirely of science. P.T. Barnum famously said “a sucker is born every minute”, and these days, instead of going to the circus, these folks support the mental illness system in all its glossed up, puckered up, lipsticked up, unscientific skullduggery, and therefore gee, because there is an addiction problem, bring back that old pig, put lipstick on him, dress him up, roast him, and serve him for Christmas such that, well, once that’s done, it’ll feel just like Christmas, right? Now aside from all that, addiction is a genuine issue, a serious problem, and certainly can be considered as a bona fide concern of public health. I just wish that the underlying system, ie, the mental illness system, was well equipped to handle it even with the funding. It isn’t. And that’s the biggest problem of them all!!

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