Heroin epidemic & how to address it

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

A plague, a disease, an epidemic — this is how heroin addiction was variously described by the seven members of a community panel last Thursday evening, Jan. 29, in the SUNY Adirondack theater.

The program, put together by Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan and Council for Prevention’s Amanda West, was presented by the Hometowns vs. Heroin and Addiction Coalition.

“What we are all combatting here is a heroin plague that is threatening our community,” said Ms. Hogan. “We can’t pros ecute our way out of this,” the D.A. said. Arresting and jailing the suppliers who are bringing the drugs up from New York City — “mostly Brooklyn,” Ms. Hogan said — that’s only part of the solution.

She called such arrests “roadkills,” cautioning, “It’s like cockroaches. Take one out and 100 more come in.”

The better way to combat the problem is cutting demand by preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place.

“Prevention is as much a responsibility of a prosecutor as prosecuting criminals,” Ms. Hogan told The Chronicle separately.

“As a prosecutor, we have a great ability to affect the public climate, to raise awareness, be sure parents are aware of how dangerous this addiction is, and to be telling every kid in school not to consider taking pills” — opiates in particular, which authorities said so often lead to heroin.

“If you are in the system because of addiction, we are here to help you too,” Ms. Hogan said of her message. “There is compassion to the criminal justice system.”

“Heroin addiction,” she told the nearly full house audience “is a dangerous and deadly disease. We hope that those of you in this room will be like Johnny Appleseed, spreading the word to prepare, and to prevent this plague.”

Combatting heroin — Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, left, with  panel members Taylor Jurnak of Granville, Joshua Burns of Glens Falls and Katrina Fox,  also of Glens Falls. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe
Combatting heroin — Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, left, with panel members Taylor Jurnak of Granville, Joshua Burns of Glens Falls and Katrina Fox, also of Glens Falls. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

She offered, straight-out, “If anyone is actually using and wanting to stop we have a list of resources for you here.

“And if there is anyone with sources on who is supplying heroin in this community, the sheriffs are here and happy to take your information confidentially.”

3 recovering addicts: How we got hooked

“It’s here,” recovering heroin and crack addict Joshua Burns of Glens Falls told the Jan. 29 gathering at SUNY Adirondack.

“I didn’t have to drive down to Albany to get my drugs. I lived in a nice part of town. I just drove down my street to my dealer, by West Mountain, not even to the bad part of Glens Falls.”

He said, “This was not some drug dealer on a shady corner. This was someone I went to kindergarten with, someone that I have known all my life.”

Katrina Fox of Glens Falls said, “The people I was hanging with — you have to understand — this is not the typical junkie in an alleyway. There are prominent people with money. This disease does not discriminate.”

“The area has changed in the 10 years since I was in high school,” said Taylor Jurnak of Granville. “Not one person in my high school even knew what opiates were, or heroin. Now you have 14-year-olds shooting up in the bathrooms.”

He added, “The first time I ever did heroin, I got it right here on this campus. It’s scary how easy it is to get. It’s around the corner everywhere.”

Prosecution led to recovery

Ms. Hogan said she tells people facing addiction-related charges, “I can be your best cheerleader or your worst enemy.”

“I prosecuted all three of these people,” Ms. Hogan said of Mr. Burns, Ms. Fox and Mr. Jurnak, all around age 30.

But the prosecution — sometimes one last prosecution in a long string — was the final low point that led ultimately to recovery. “It was police intervention that helped these three, though they didn’t think so at the time,” Ms. Hogan said.

Mr. Burns agreed that going to jail for heroin-related charges was the first step to his recovery. “I had lost everything. Other than the orange jumpsuit they gave me, I had one set of clothing that I’d been wearing for days, completely dirty. I hadn’t been to sleep for four days.”

“He’s not broken now,” Ms. Hogan says of Mr. Burns. “He’s a rock star.”

Ms. Fox said she was arrested the first time at age 18, for marijuana possession with intent to sell. “That was Kate and my first encounter.” She smiled now to say that.

Big turnout — Medical providers, support group members, law enforcement and others at the Hometowns vs. Heroin panel last week. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe
Big turnout — Medical providers, support group members, law enforcement and others at the Hometowns vs. Heroin panel last week. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

“I needed to go to jail a few times before I knew I needed to stand up for my own life,” Mr. Jurnak said. “For a lot of people, there is a choice, you can live a life where you can hold your head up high. Mine real-ly is a story of salvage.”

From a parent’s perspective

Judy Moffitt said she is an Ivy League-educated chemistry teacher at South Glens Falls High School whose 26-year-old son is incarcerated in a shock treatment prison for heroin-related crimes.

What she feels? “Shame, guilt, disbelief, desperation, sadness, fear, excruciating pain.” What she wants? “No more fighting with an insurance company that he needs to fail out of outpatient to get inpatient care. No more opiate overdoses. No more detoxing on a jail cell floor.”

And, she says, no more going it alone.

Ms. Moffitt is a driving force in the Hometown vs. Heroin coalition, an outspoken activist for treatment and getting the word out. She started a Nar-Anon 12-step support group in South Glens Falls, to serve loved ones of those with addiction. She meets regularly with a group in Hudson Falls aiming to offer more local options for recovery and support for those fighting addiction.

“They say three things are possible for an addict,” Ms. Moffitt said: “Institution, incarceration and death. My son has experienced two of those. I refuse to sit back waiting for the third.”

Through therapists and Nar-Anon, she said, she’s learned to “detach with love, set boundaries, love the person and hate the disease” — and do what you can to keep your loved one safe. “Recovery is not possible if they don’t survive an overdose.”

Ms. Moffitt said, “Addiction is a disease of isolation. The antidote for that is what’s happening in this room right now.”

Psychiatrist: Pushers are ‘great marketers’

Psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Berry, from Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery, says when he started here in 2002, “We’d see six people on heroin in a whole year…and frankly, that was usually someone who’d come up from New York City and missed the turn to Schenectady. There just weren’t people on heroin here.”

By 2005, he said there were “more and more” people on opiates, typically painkillers, starting with relieving pain from an injury. Now, he says, opiate and heroin addictions are prevalent, “and some people are getting right directly into heroin.”

Dr. Berry said, “The people who are selling here have a great marketing system. Heroin is dirt cheap compared to anything else, yet they’re still making an immense profit on it. They’re giving it away to first-time users, with one little hook: It’s gotta be used in front of them. Addicts will tell you, you never forget your first hit.”

He says, “I’m talking at the high school level, college level, even lower — 7th or 8th grade. Kids who really have no idea what they’re playing with, no concept of how dangerous it is.”

“Heroin addiction is really a true disease,” Dr. Berry said, rather than a moral failing. “It creates changes in the brain. We need to look at it as a medical illness and take it seriously. The good news is, all three of these people have shared it to us: There is hope. Treatment works, and there are many opportunities for that in this community.”

For more information: (518) 746-1527, www.councilforprevention.org.

Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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