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Franklin DA cites spread of heroin

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MALONE — Heroin abuse — a growing concern for law enforcement across the state — has found its way into Franklin County.

At the county Legislature meeting Thursday, District Attorney Derek Champagne explained that heroin is becoming an issue here and that the use of the drug is more widespread than anyone could have imagined.

“If there is a word below epidemic, that is what is here in Franklin County. Some of the adjoining counties are at an epidemic stage,” Mr. Champagne said, adding it’s only a matter of time until Franklin is there.

Mr. Champagne said the signs of heroin can be seen in the number of armed robberies and home invasions. He said the drug is making its way upstate mainly via Mexico and then New York City.

Legislature Chairman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, asked if any of the heroin is coming into the state from Canada.

“Actually we have been having issues from pills and other stuff from the north,” Mr. Champagne said. “But right now most of our heroin we can directly link to Albany, Syracuse and New York City. But when you track it even further, it is New York City right now.”

Legislator Barbara Rice, D-Saranac Lake, said an article she read in Sunday’s New York Times about heroin use reported that deaths from heroin have now surpassed deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

Mr. Jones asked what is the best way to combat heroin use.

“My belief is that you can give law enforcement 500 billion dollars from New York state and it will not address the heroin problem,” Mr. Champagne said.

He cited a trend of people going to dentists and doctors in significant pain and then getting hooked on prescription hydrocodone or oxycodone.

Because of efforts by law enforcement to make these drugs harder to obtain, crush and inhale, he said, addicts are turning to heroin.

“When they try it that one time, they are done. The other problem with heroin is that you can build up a tolerance, so because you are building up the tolerance, it takes you more and more to get that euphoria,” Mr. Champagne said. “We are seeing almost all of our users are turning to one of two things –– they are either turning to crime to support their habit or they are turning to selling heroin to support their habit.”

He said there are no other options for them, because in most of upstate New York, they cannot support a $400- to $600-a-day habit on any of the current salaries available in the region.

When it comes to the treatment of a heroin addict, Mr. Champagne said, 28-day treatment programs just don’t cut it.

“On the treatment end, the 28-day programs are too short and they are not working,” he said. “From the court’s perspective and my belief is that we cannot find insurance or funding to pay for longer than 28. We are seeing this revolving door, because the 28 days just does not do it.”

Ms. Rice said, “So you can keep increasing the amount of time these people spend in jail, but if they get out of jail it just starts all over.”

Mr. Champagne said that when convicted offenders get out of jail, they are still addicted to heroin. “I can put them in for a year and a half and they are still addicted to heroin,” he said.

Legislator Carl Sherwin, D-Malone, said that in the 1960s and early 1970s there apparently was an age limit for active addicts.

Mr. Champagne said there are two big differences now. The first, he said, is the massive size and easily availablity of the drug supply. In earlier decades, he said, there were supply issues even though a lot of people were addicted.

“I think the huge problem is that it is now glamorized, it is now something cool,” the DA said.

He said when his investigator, Michael Fleury, went to purchase heroin a couple of months ago as part of an investigation, the young woman he purchased it from was showing her arms to Mr. Fleury like it was something cool.

“Mike came back and said ‘Boss, it is here and we got heroin problems. It is unbelievable,’” Mr. Champagne said. “It is a whole different phase now. I remember the commercials when I was a kid... they had the monkey commercial that scared the crap out of you. People down in a gutter, dirty, disgusting and pathetic — those were heroin users. And now it has a new culture to it, and I think combined with all of these people who have ... unfortunately been hooked because of oxycodone and hydrocodone — drugs that have a good purpose and do have valuable use in certain situations...now we have got this perfect storm.”

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