We can’t arrest our way out of the opioid crisis

Juan Figueroa

The opioid crisis has spared no community. This epidemic has no borders. It has impacted every corner of our area. A recent report released by the Rockefeller Institute of Government indicates that between 2015 and 2016, deaths attributed to opioid overdose rose by 29 percent. Here in Ulster County, we saw an 80 percent increase in that same time period. As I speak with residents in our communities, I am constantly reminded how widespread this problem has become, regardless of socioeconomics, race, age or profession.

As a retired member of the state police and former investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, I successfully worked to take down large drug cartels. Like the drug networks I fought against, the pharmaceutical industry, with the assistance of some of those in the medical field, have spread addiction to make a profit. Drug manufacturers have falsely advertised and misled patients, and as a result, we have seen rampant addiction to opioid medications and heroin. While these professionals may not fit the stereotypes that we have for those who push street heroin, they have the same motive. The only difference is they push their product out in the open while sitting behind a desk wearing a suit and tie.

This is why I support local governments who have opted to sue pharmaceutical companies. Like drug cartels, going after their money is an effective way of ending their reign. They should be held responsible by both civil suits and the criminal justice system. If a person gets addicted taking these prescribed medications, these companies should be paying for rehabilitation, incarcerations, funerals, and other impacts on families. In addition, they need to reimburse our villages, towns, cities, and states for all of the emergency service and related costs that this epidemic has created — all presently being subsidized by the taxpayer.

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I recently spoke on a panel in Kingston with Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann who launched a program that allows individuals who are ready to get off addictive drugs to come to his department for help. His program, Chatham Cares 4 U, has assisted hundreds of citizens get into a detox or treatment program. This is a modern problem that requires modern solutions on all fronts and I commend Chief Volkmann for his proactive approach. It is imperative that we continue to listen beyond the borders of Ulster County for innovative solutions to this problem.

If elected sheriff, I plan to put humane treatment of the opioid crisis at the top of the agenda. I will work with our communities, our families, and medical professionals alongside first responders. Together we can combat this issue, but we first need to accept that this is not a problem that we can simply arrest our way out of.

The writer, a former Marine and state trooper, is seeking the Democratic nomination for Ulster County sheriff.

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