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Franklin County forum focuses on increase in heroin use in community

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By OLIVIA PEPE

MALONE — Area law enforcement and drug treatment professionals painted a grim picture of the rise in the use of heroin and other opiates in the area to the more than 50 people who attended a community forum this week at Franklin Academy.

Another public forum on the problem is planned for the near future.

“Three years ago, less than 1 percent of our outpatient admissions for substance use treatment were primarily heroin users; today that number is close to 9 percent,” said Beth Lawyer, director of North Star Behavioral Health Services and founding member of the Franklin County Prevention Task Force.

“Twenty-nine percent of all of our outpatient admissions coming for help for addiction are coming for opiates,” she said.

Investigator Samuel Mercado, a New York State Police drug recognition expert from Albany, said the reasons for the spike in usage include “the availability, the low cost, the purity level, and obviously we create new abusers.”

Mr. Mercado said the main reason for the increase has to do with health insurance.

“What do you get with a $10 co-pay if you have pain - oxycodone, hydrocodone, percocet, on and on,” he said. “That’s the real gateway drug.”

A milligram of these drugs can sell for $1, Mr. Mercado said. “So if you have a 40 milligram pill, how much is that worth? Forty bucks.”

Malone Village Police Chief Chris Premo said unused drugs can be dropped off at the Franklin County Jail.

He also noted that twice a year the Malone Village Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency collect those drugs.

Mr. Premo showed audience members 1,280 hits of heroin confiscated during a traffic stop in Malone in October 2012.

“If this was sold for $30 a bag, which is the going rate right now in Malone, that’s over a $30,000 profit,” he said.

Suboxone is another drug that is sold in Malone for $30 a strip, Mr. Premo said.

Suboxone is supposed to be used to treat opioid dependence, but can have the opposite affect if used incorrectly.

The prevalence of heroin and opioids is creating a serious public health issue, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said.

“On the national scene ... drug overdoses now account for more deaths in the United States than homicides and automobile accidents,” Mr. Champagne said.

Mr. Mercado noted that the drug Narcan can be used on someone who has overdosed. Mr. Premo said the Malone Police Department will be trained to use Narcan next Wednesday. He noted that overdoses have increased 500 percent between 1980 and 2010.

Heroin use is also responsible for a major spike in crime, Mr. Mercado said.

“The average heroin addict has a 10-bag-a-day habit,” he said. “A 10-bag-a-day habit is $150 a day — that’s every day.”

Mr. Mercado said to keep that habit the first thing addicts do is steal from family members, then extended family, and then the general public.

One sign that a person is using heroin is if the person is “nodding off,” Mr. Mercado said. Users are also often lethargic and not focused and moving or speaking slowly.

Mr. Mercado also said another thing to look for is track marks that are usually found in the arm, but can also be found in between the toes and fingers.

He also noted that no one should ever handle a used needle, since blood pathogens can be passed on to a person who handles it.

The state police investigator said that the cotton ball used when injecting heroin, also known as the filter, shouldn’t be touched with bare hands.

He also informed attendees that single-stall bathrooms are the main areas where addicts shoot up and to always check the area before letting children in.

Health care professionals stressed that the situation is not hopeless.

“Help is available, recovery is possible and we are able to create the support systems critical to sustain recover,” said Suzanne LaVigne, director of Franklin County Community Services.

She said there are three treatments centers in Franklin County, including the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Chemical Dependency Services, St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers and North Star Behavioral Health Services.

“Countywide we are able to provide a variety of services to include prevention, outpatient and inpatient services, as well as medication management,” she said.

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