RX painkillers drive heroin use in Saugerties

(Will Dendis)

(Will Dendis)

The following article was originally published April 17, 2014. 

The sharp increase in the use of prescription opiates and heroin across the Northeast has not spared Saugerties.

Of the 34 arrested in last week’s drug sweep, five of the seven Saugerties suspects were arrested for opiate possession— two for heroin, three for oxycodone.

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“We have definitely seen an increase in opiate addiction here,” says Bill Delaney, program manager of Rehabilitation Support Services, a halfway house in Barclay Heights. “At least half our population is heroin-addicted. Alcohol addiction is second. We saw mostly crack and cocaine in the past, but this past year the amount of people coming in with opiate addiction has become the most significant.”

Poll: Has heroin use risen significantly in Saugerties?

One Saugerties resident, “Jennifer,” was willing to tell us her personal story under an assumed name.

“My son [age 19] and his girlfriend were really involved with pills and heroin up until Christmas, when we did an intervention,” she said. “I sent my son out to California to live with his sister. It is of epidemic proportions here in Woodstock and Saugerties.”

Jennifer says that prescription opiates likely led her son to heroin. “I think it starts with kids stealing oxycodone from their parents and then they move on to snorting heroin because it’s so cheap. He didn’t take the pills from me, but a lot of his friends had access to them from parents.”
Delaney says that heroin is often easier to access than pills.

One anonymous recovered user, “Jane,” from the Kingston area, explains how dealing and addiction go hand-in-hand.

“When I used to buy pills, my dealer would always give me the lowdown on whomever we were going to meet up with to buy them from. He was able to get better deals from the people with heroin addictions. At least 75 percent of the people who had prescriptions for painkillers no longer took said meds. They sold their meds to buy heroin.”

In an interview earlier this year, Police Chief Joseph Sinagra said he didn’t believe Saugerties had more or less of a drug problem than neighboring communities, but acknowledged that the area as a whole had seen an increase in recent years. He said the department would be concentrating on the drug issue throughout 2014 and would have more Saugerties-specific information at year’s end.

What should we do?

Those we spoke with — some with direct experience with addiction, others without — felt the solution to the problem would need to include more than enforcement of drug laws.

“I would love to get involved or try to start some kind of local movement of parents and concerned people,” said Jennifer.

Currently, the nearest support group for family members of addicts, Nar-Anon, does not meet any closer than Albany or New Paltz.

Traditional treatment for opiate addiction often involves opiate-replacement with drugs like suboxone and methadone. Saugerties resident Brandy Berndt says it’s not enough. “I have experienced firsthand individuals battling opiate addiction,” she said. “Rehab facilities replace their addiction to opiates with yet another highly addictive treatment. They need to spend more time rehabilitating individuals in order to live a clean life (sober living facilities, proper counseling, etc).”

Saugerties resident Marjorie Block said more mental health services should be available because many addicts are self-medicating.

West Saugerties resident Stephanie Todd disagrees. “I do not think the two (mental health and addiction) are necessarily connected, although there is probably some overlap. Correlation isn’t causation.” Todd agrees that education, in the form of “increased awareness” is important. She also calls for a public health outreach initiative that includes clean needle exchanges for those that inject heroin.

Saugerties resident Sarah Dahman works at a substance abuse rehabilitation facility. She also recently lost a 23-year-old relative to a heroin overdose. Dahman thinks the stigma around addiction needs to be lifted and that a cultural shift needs to happen that recognizes addiction as a disease like any other.

“I think it would really benefit Saugerties to develop a stronger relationship with Family of Woodstock,” she said. “They have walk-in centers in Kingston, Woodstock, New Paltz, and Ellenville, but not Saugerties.”

Resident Heather Scarselli Dodd believes if more people with addiction tell their stories it will help to deter others from picking up an addiction.