It is no small statement to say that heroin use has once again become a problem. In fact, the issue of heroin use has risen to such a level in Northeastern States that President Obama has called for action on the matter. On August 17, 2015, the Obama Administration proposed the creation of a joint task force of law enforcement and health care coordinators to help address the addition while stemming the flow of the drug.
Heroin drug use has grown to over 4.2 million people age 12 or older. In the past decade there has been a 62% increase in the number of heroin users. The number of deaths due to Heroin overdoses has quadrupled from 2002-2013 to over 8,200 people. The most at risk groups are Whites (114% increase); women (100% increase); Ages 18-25 (109% increase); and the lower middle class – annual income $20,000-$49,999 (77% increase); and those addicted to opioid painkillers like oxycodone (40x more likely to be addicted) .
At the local County level, in March 2015, Binghamton Mayor Rich David noted that since 2014, there had been 41 people who died of heroin overdoses. This figure does not include those saved by “Narcan” injections – a medical drug used on those overdosing from heroin – of which 7 people were saved from April to June 2015 by the Binghamton Fire Department alone. Both the number of deaths and those saved by narcan have grown since that time. So have the number of arrests with over 1500 bags of heroin being seized just in 2015 alone.
Thus the efforts announced by the Obama Administration is timely if a bit unclear in how it will help resolve the problem. As described by MSNBC’s Tony Dokoupil,
“It’s promoted as a treatment-first program, but the details lean heavily toward enforcement and incarceration. It calls for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to collect data on overdoses and trends in heroin trafficking… But public health officials don’t need to know the intricacies of trafficking in order to respond to an ongoing epidemic.”
Still other initiatives are on-going separate of the President’s proposal. On August 17, 2015, Gloucester Massachusetts Police Chief Leonard Campanello took the time to meet with local law enforcement to discuss the Angel Program, enacted June 1, 2015. Thus far the program has hellped 116 addicts. The program is geared toward treatment, and addicts that volunteer will not face incarceration from coming forward.
Given the nature of the crisis, and the attention being focused on it at the Federal and State level, we sought the views of the candidates for the NY 52nd State Senate special election. We reached out to all 4 known candidates (the Democrat and Republican Party nominees, as well as the Libertarian and Independent candidates seeking petitions to be added to the ballot). We asked each, via email, to respond to the following 4 questions – sent to each candidate on August 17, 2015 at 5 AM:
- Do you believe that using health records will help to stop heroin trafficking (or any drug for that matter)? If so, please describe how you think it would help.
- Do you believe that this violates 4th Amendment rights, or HIPPA legislation?
- Since you are running for the 52nd State Senate seat, if you were in office right now would you support or oppose this program? Please explain why.
- As a State Senate member, if elected, are there any initiatives or programs that you seek to promote/expand/create to help combat heroin and other illegal drugs in NY State?
At the time of this article being published we had the following responses:
- Denver Jones (Independent, seeking petitions to be added to the ballot) – The campaign had contacted us previously (in regard to an interview request) and stated that Mr. Jones would be focused solely on gaining the petitions needed to be added to the ballot. They have declined all comment until the petitions are submitted. They did not respond to our request.
- Undersheriff Fred Akshar (nominee picked by the Republican Party) – The campaign provided us this quote,
“As a member of law enforcement for 15 years, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact of the heroin crisis on individuals and on good families right here in our community. I’m convinced that strong enforcement alone cannot solve the problem, without ensuring access to more education, prevention and treatment. As our next Senator, I will work tirelessly and stand side by side with law enforcement and treatment experts to ensure that they have the resources we need to face the problem and protect our children and our families.”
- Barbara Fiala (nominee picked by the Democratic Party) – Thus far we have not received any response (via phone or email) to any request for comment or interview. We did receive a confirmation email on August 17, that our request for comment was received.
- Richard Purtell (Libertarian Party, seeking petitions to be added to the ballot) – Thus far we have not received any response (via phone or email) to any request for comment or interview.
All candidates were given 36 hours to respond to our request for comment. We delayed the release of this article to provide additional time for any response. In addition we extend to each candidate the offer to comment on this article, and to be interviewed, at any time in the future.