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Saving a Life, Feeding the Problem

The Heroin Epidemic Plagues Central New York

By Elizabeth Beeson SYRACUSE, NY (NCC NEWS) – Heroin is no longer an inner-city problem, according to New York lawmakers. They say it’s an affluent and suburban epidemic that’s claiming the lives of New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds.

“It’s in all the neighborhoods”

“It’s overwhelming. It’s definitely a problem. It’s in all the neighborhoods. It’s not singled out in one neighborhood. It’s all over,” said Chittenango resident, Greg McDonald. “I have friends all over the city: Liverpool, Chitennango, Syracuse, Baldwinsville, all over the place, and it’s definitely a problem.”

Heroin is affecting college-age kids and older adults, said Lon Fricano, a DO at TLC Emergency Services in Syracuse. He says that it, “Penetrates all demographics, all age groups, all socio-economic groups.”

He says he responds to heroin-related overdoses almost everyday.

“When I moved here 26 years ago, it was rare,” he said. “Now, it’s everyday.”

“Alcohol and cigarettes are harder to get”

The price of heroin continues to go down, announced Governor Cuomo in Albany last week. It’s cheaper than it’s ever been, he said, which is attracting college-age New Yorkers.

Syracuse resident Greg McDonald says his 20-year-old son told him a bag of heroin can be purchased for $4 in the city.

“It’s so inexpensive because it’s flooded the streets,” McDonald explained. “Kids are selling it for very little money and can scrape up change to purchase it.
He said that it would be easier for his son to get a hit of heroin than a 6-pack.
“Alcohol and cigarettes are harder to get than the drugs,” said McDonald.

“It’s a New York-specific problem”

The use of heroin was rampant in the 1960s and 70s, according to the Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center, but Governor  Cuomo says it’s much worse today, especially in New York.

“New York state has a terrible problem with heroin,” said the Governor. “It’s not that it’s just a national problem. It’s that it’s a New York-specific problem.

Cuomo’s plan to combat the growing epidemic includes:

  • Increasing funds for more New York state troopers to investigate heroin trafficking
  • Making the anti-overdose drug, narcan, more available
  • Requiring insurance companies to consistently cover treatment for addiction
  • Forcing harsher punishment on pharmacists who illegally sell prescription drugs
  • Adding funds for public awareness of drug use

Narcan

The most extreme part of Cuomo’s new legislation is making the antidote, narcan, more available. With the new laws, firemen, school officials and family members of heroin users could carry narcan and be trained to administer it after an overdose.

Narcan is an anti-overdose drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose, from RXlist.com.

According to the American Council on Science and Health, New York saw an 84 percent increase in heroin deaths from 2010 to 2012.

“The idea is to make sure that this antidote is as readily available as possible because we’re seeing an enormous number of deaths from overdosing,” explained Fricano.

The question, then, that many central New Yorkers are raising is whether the availability of narcan incentivizes heroin users to continue using the drug. Does easier access to narcan feed the bigger problem?

McDonald says it might make kids in school think that trying heroin is safer. He said, a kid could say, “Well, if I take too much, Johnny can run down to the nurse and zap me and I know I’ll be ok.”

But at the same time, others argue, narcan saves lives.

“What are you gonna do?” asked Fricano. “You have police officers working out in the boon docks, walking into a heroin and opiate overdose. At least if they can administer narcan, they stand the chance of saving that person’s life.”

 

Anyone with information about the sale of heroin or other drugs in Syracuse is asked to call police at 442-5222.

 

TLC Emergency Services, Syracuse, NY 2014 (Elizabeth Beeson

2012 (AP/Oregon State Police, File)

Governor Cuomo speaking at a news conference in Albany announcing legislation to combat the rise of heroin. 2014 (AP/Mike Groll)