As Charles Lyonhart was in New York City Tuesday getting a CT Scan to follow up on his chronic health problems that resulted from his own long-ago heroin use, we learned of another death this week, allegedly from drug overdose, that has taken place in the Phoenicia area.
Sources tell us that a well-known young man, a former Onteora student, has passed away. Having no family confirmation, we’ll withhold the name at this point.
In the past months, we’ve written about the local and wider heroin epidemic from the viewpoints of citizens, police, social workers, public officials, newly found groups to combat the problem and school officials.
For this issue, we asked Lyonhart to go and talk to the ones on the street, those mostly young people who are using drugs, or who are on one side or another of addiction. We’ve disguised their identities in the article, but they are real.
When I was first asked to cover the heroin epidemic in Woodstock, I felt a little apprehensive. Although it has been well over 40 years since I used heroin, I wasn’t sure if by going out into the streets of Woodstock and speaking to addicts I would open up an old door and put myself in danger.
Instead, I was astounded to discover how pervasive the problem really is today in Woodstock, making me want to help the people that I encountered while writing this story.
I could never have imagined in 1968, when I was using, just how out of hand the problem has become today. Due to the abundance of heroin imported from Afghanistan, the purity and its low price “it has become, the thing to do” according to X., a 22-year-old addict in recovery, with ten months clean. X. went straight to shooting heroin the first time that he used the drug. Heroin is easier to get than a loaf of bread these days if you know the right people.
“It’s pretty much a text away,” he says. “I used to go right into South Poughkeepsie, Thompson and Bement. I still know the address. Go in the door, there’s a window, hand them the cash and bum, you’re out. It’s crazy. We would drive back and forth to Poughkeepsie from Woodstock every day with 10 to 15 bundles (a bundle is 15 bags of heroin wrapped in a rubber band). I was working on a construction crew and I was getting paid cash at the end of every day. They were enabling me and they didn’t even know it. I was making $150 a day. Getting out of work at 4 o’clock every day and then going over the bridge to pick up 5 or 6 bundles at $40 apiece.”
I asked X. if he was ever scared to be pulled over. “I was so high; I was taking a lot of Xanax, too. That shit is hard to get off. That shit will make someone act so much differently. Twenty minutes after I take it I’m a complete asshole.” Perhaps not wanting to “be an asshole” any longer had something to do with losing his best friend Ryan Kelder in August of 2015, who was only twenty-five years old. “Yeah I got this bracelet right here for him. I lived together with him the whole summer before he went to treatment. He was away for I think eleven months. He came out of treatment clean. He went so far with the program; he could have gotten out earlier but he stayed longer. He went to Family of Woodstock to set him up with an apartment, he did all that and the second day out, they found him (dead) on his kitchen floor in Ellenville by his father.”
Y. got himself clean without any outside help since he was refused it when he went to hospitals but had no insurance. “It was all me, only you can do it yourself.” X. had to purchase his Suboxone on the street since he could not go to a doctor for help. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine, which can be used as a stand-alone treatment for opiate dependence, and naloxone, which is used to treat opiate overdoses. Suboxone seems to be the drug of choice these days to treat narcotic addicts as Methadone was in the past. Many say that it is far more addictive than Methadone. The Naloxone (Narcan) in Suboxone can prevent a person from overdosing if given the drug in time. For now, X. is clean, holding down a job in one of Woodstock’s most familiar places where he has had the owners take a special interest in him.
There are people around Woodstock that have trained to administer Narcan, like Emily Sherry and Anthony Heaney of Provisions on Tinker Street in Woodstock. They truly care more about the kids and the addiction problem in Woodstock and have their pulse probably better on the problem better than anyone else in town.
It’s a place where the kids that are addicted, or trying not to be, can go for advice and help. They have a ‘pay it forward system’ where you can buy for a coffee or sandwich in advance for someone that doesn’t have any money to eat. They also have a bulletin board where people can post anything from an apartment to counseling. In January, Woodstock Times wrote a story on Provisions and the week or so after the article, numerous people came into Provisions and saying that they wanted to help the kids strung out in town. Lately that has slowed down pretty much. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says Emily.
The problem is not going away. The last time I was in Provisions, two kids came into the store to buy lunch. They bantered for a bit about what to eat, “how’s the fuckin’ hamburgers?” one said as the other continued to sway in a nod in the store. “There go two,” Anthony said to me as they went up the street to buy flowers and then came back to the store to pick up their lunches. I wondered, would these two wind up in the obituaries next week?