Heroin Valley: Regional drug outbreak concerns treatment specialists

Tyler McNeil, Staff Writer

A heroin epidemic has been spreading across the northeast, affecting the Capital Region as well, with multiple drug busts making headlines.

“You always have individuals looking for the ultimate high and heroin right now is cheap,” said Larry Ellis, licensed mental health counselor and associate director of  the Center for Counseling and Transfer.

“The age group that is now affected by heroin is unlike ever before. Heroin is usually for older folks in their thirties and forties. Now, people between 12 and 22 are getting hooked,” said Ellis.

Under state law, trafficking or possession of an illicit substance can pose a threat to students’ financial aid, including grants, loans and work study programs.

On the Hudson Valley campus, some programs aim to allow a former heroin addict’s past to not interfere with their academic future.

“[After heroin addiction] people struggle with abnormalities in their brain but it all depends on the individual and how long they’ve been using [heroin],” said Ellis.

Ellis works with students struggling with mental health and addiction and provides outlets to local recovery centers.

“Basically, they come in for an individual counselor and we encourage them to join support groups outside of campus,” said Ellis.

“We have a lot of recovery programs available in this area like SPARK, Hudson Mohawk Recovery Center, [Narcotics Anoymous],” said Ellis.

“And we run a recovery program on campus by campus ministry chaplain, Cylon George,” said Ellis.

Project Safe Point is also involved locally as a non-profit organization that aims to cut down drug use by taking used syringes off the street and replacing them with new ones.

Despite recovery addicts seeking support, Nechelle Armstead, director of Health Services said, “We’ve never had a report of a student using heroin on campus amongst other reports.”

“Heroin seems to be taking a front seat right now in terms of an epidemic prevalent in this area,” said Stephen Sipperly, Hudson Valley physician.

In the Capital Region, heroin prices have decreased by nearly half in the span of five years. The lowered price has occured along with an increased overdose rate. In Colonie, two out 38 reported overdose cases have resulted in death.

410 bags of heroin were discovered by authorities at the Colonie towers and 470 bags were found in the home of Mazene Lacy in Albany on March 5.

On Jan. 27 in Poughkeepsie, Senator Charles Schumer called for the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy to consider Dutchess County a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. New York state has 17 total HIDTA counties, including Albany.

$7.95 million was recently proposed in the New York Senate to fight the heroin epidemic.The plan was to budget $450,000 for opioid prevention services, $500,000 in pharmaceutical take back, $2 million in treatment beds and $5 million for prevention services.

Albany county deputies are now required to carry a nasal counter overdose spray called Naloxone.

“We have medications that can rapidly reverse the effects. There is talk about whether it should be more readily in the area right now. Going forward, we’re seeing whether urgent care centers and ambulances should have these as well,” Sipperly said.

“Because of the fact there’s underground trafficking, eventually outreach places will have this medication,” said Sipperly.

Aside from preventing overdose deaths and distribution of heroin, New York state officials are now using the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing or I-STOP to prevent heroin addiction from occurring. I-STOP went into effect on Aug. 27, 2013 tracking the usage of prescription opiates like Oxycodone and Methadone.

Downstate, heroin related deaths have risen 84 percent between 2010 and 2012 in New York City.

“Addiction is really the basis for everything,” Sipperly said. “Addiction exists despite what we hear. There’s alway potential for an individual to become dependent on a substance.”

A national survey reports that more than 650,000 Americans have used heroin within the present year. Drug related deaths have reportedly eclipsed motor vehicle accident deaths in the United States.

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