Heroin Prevention, Treatment, Enforcement All Needed

The 47 arrests made, 159 indictments delivered and 3,000 bags of heroin seized last month in Jamestown are the culmination of the yearlong “Operation Horseback.” Unfortunately the story is far from over.

Five distinct law enforcement agencies, including the men and women of the Jamestown Police Department, worked together on Operation Horseback to shut down a drug trafficking operation that was poisoning our communities.

I commend the Jamestown P.D., New York State Police, and the other agencies for their actions to thwart this drug ring that preyed on the futures of our young people by leading them down the path of addiction. We are all indebted to their combination of old-fashioned police work and high-tech operations. Today, a cache of heroin valued at $60,000 is off our streets and those who intended to traffic and sell it, including 25 people that already had previous criminal records, will face justice.

To successfully put an end to this heroin scourge that is destroying lives and wreaking havoc in our communities, we all need to work together. It will take a combined and effective strategy of prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

At the joint heroin and opioid addiction forum I hosted with the Seneca Nation in June, we heard from recovering addicts; families who have lost loved ones; health, education and law enforcement experts; and dozens of individuals who have been deeply affected by heroin addiction in some way.

The stories we heard were heartbreaking. Members of families torn apart by drug addiction spoke passionately about what changes are needed to prevent abuse, treat addiction, and enforce protections.

The state Senate’s Heroin and Opioid Addiction Task Force went right to work. Listening to the input of those who testified, along with participants at 17 other similar forums held across the state, my colleagues and I in the Senate quickly crafted legislation and passed a sweeping 23-bill package to get the rise in heroin abuse under control.

The bills we passed focus on preventing drug abuse, increasing treatment options for addicts and overdose victims, and enhancing the tools at the disposal of law enforcement working to keep heroin and other drugs off our streets.

I recognize that prevention is the first and most important step in putting a halt to the spread of this epidemic. Better education and public awareness about the extent of the problem is needed, and the multiple forums that have been held in Chautauqua County are a tremendous advantage for our area.

There is often an unfounded stigma attached to heroin addiction that hinders people from recognizing its dangers to people of every social and economic status. The false perception of heroin as a drug abused in high-crime areas of large cities far from the quiet of suburban and rural life could not be farther from the truth. Increasing public understanding of the risks and dangers of heroin and other opioids, recognizing the signs of addiction, and being aware of helpful programs and resources will go a long way.

Along with prevention, those already addicted need better treatment options and access. From detox and relapse prevention programs to more affordable treatment prescriptions, we recognized that there is much more we can do to help those struggling with addiction.

One of the measures we passed will help reduce overdose deaths by enabling schools to possess and administer naloxone, an effective emergency overdose treatment that can save the life of an overdose victim when every second is crucial to survival.

It is also important to understand that hard drug abuse is not confined to narcotics and opioids dealt on the street and abused under the cover of darkness. For many, their addiction stems from a drug prescribed by a physician and sitting in their medicine cabinet. Prescription drug abuse has become just as severe and just as deadly as anything purchased on the street. Working with physicians to better guard against a patient becoming addicted to powerful prescriptions was a major focus of the legislation we passed. Unnecessary over-prescription can also lead to excess drugs ending up sold on the street and abused.

Finally, law enforcement need the resources to be able do what they do best. The Jamestown P.D., New York State Police, and the federal and state agencies they worked with on Operation Horseback demonstrated the progress that can be made when law enforcement are given the resources they need. No treatment or prevention plan is going to work unless we are also going after the traffickers and dealers whose goal is to get others hooked. This includes medical professionals who would abuse their position by willfully and knowingly providing controlled substances to abusers.

There is no magic bullet for addressing the heroin and opioid scourge. Over the past five years, abuse of heroin and opioid drugs has doubled across America. But by working together and attacking the problem from every angle, we can keep our families and neighborhoods safe and begin rolling back the tide.

The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) is offering free and open training sessions on opioid overdose prevention over the next several months at the Margaret A. Stutzman Addiction Treatment Center in Buffalo. I would encourage anyone interested in attending to visit www.oasas.ny.gov/atc/ATCherointraining.cfm or call 882-4900 for more information.

Also, if you or someone you know is battling drug addiction, please contact the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene’s clinics at 661-8330 (Jamestown) or 363-3550 (Dunkirk) for information on treatment and recovery options. You can also call their crisis helpline 24/7 at 800-724-0461, or the OASAS crisis helpline at 877-8-HOPENY.