US Representative Sean Patrick Maloney recently held another of his town hall meetings via phone and engaged the Hudson Valley on an issue that certainly merited the “emergency” tagline attached to the telephone link up. “It’s an epidemic in the Hudson Valley,” said Congressman Maloney of the alarming rise of heroin and prescription drug use, and bringing people together to talk about solutions is the most important factor in solving it, he added.
With the problem cutting across all geographic and demographic boundaries in the area, Congressman Maloney was not mum about what it means to think otherwise. “Denial equals disaster,” said Maloney.
As such, collaboration kept coming up among the panel that included a number of experts on both the criminal justice and prevention sides. “When treatment is working with criminal justice, when both are working in conjunction with mental health, there’s a tendency for a much tighter plan and much better results,” said Chief Gerald Schramek of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
The $625,000 of federal funds the congressman just secured for the area certainly won’t hurt, but when you’re in the position of Janice from Poughkeepsie, available resources don’t necessarily ease the tragedy. “I’m the heart broken mother of a 23 year old daughter who is addicted to heroin,” said Janice, and rehab only happens when the addict consents to get help, she added of her daughter’s reluctance.
In response, Martin Colavito of Team Newburgh extended a potentially affective course of action beyond waiting for rock bottom – all while the chance of an overdose looms ever present. “If you can get the person to agree to an out patient evaluation, it could get the wheels turning and gets addicts to possibly make a decision they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” said the representative of the prevention organization.
In a sense, for the next caller, those decisions were mandated for her child. “My 18 year old son started getting high in the 8th grade, was out of school by 10th and is now in jail,” said Betty from Cornwall.
Getting high and dealing drugs becoming his life, Betty revealed that “Benito’s” confinement doesn’t exactly leave the rest of the family free of an incarceration of its own. “This situation affects not only the child but the entire family. Our family has practically fallen apart, and it has taken everything I have to keep us together,” said Betty.
That said, she expressed frustration that not enough of a link exists between drugs abuse and mental health. “What they really need is intervention, and I couldn’t get it through the schools or the local hospitals,” said Betty.
Congressman Maloney certainly sympathized, but expressed confidence that the services are out there. “We need to do a better job of advertising what type of mental health and treatment services are available,” said Congressman Maloney.
As such, he recommended a call to local departments of mental health. “I would explain the situation and ask for an evaluation. They can then make the appropriate referrals,” said Maloney.
Statewide, OASIS.NY.GOV provides a vast run down of services. “The ability to find any modality, they can go on the website and begin to get hope at a moments notice,” said Kristin McConnell, M.S. Executive Director National Council on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies/Putnam.
But a stint in rehab doesn’t necessarily make the streets safe from the addict that has either been released from a program or jail. This was pointed out rather abruptly by a caller from Walden. “We just had our first murder,” said Donna in alluding to a drug connection.
Chief Schramek concurred on the dilemma and outlined the proper course in each case. “One requirement of leaving any type of treatment is a discharge plan until they can acquire the next level of support,” he Schramek.
But unfortunately real life can be a different matter. “That doesn’t always happen,” Schramek admitted.
Regardless, law enforcement has begun to engender a synergy from the local level, through the state and up to the federal. “The Office of National Drug Control Policy has designated 32 regions across the country as high intensity drug trafficking areas,” said Chunacey Parker, Director of the NY/NJ High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Intended to promote cooperation on all three levels to make the streets safer, Parker said, “It’s a community investment,”
Still, Parker definitely understands the limits of simply trying to arrest the problem away. “One thing is for sure, law enforcement isn’t going to solve this problem alone,” said Parker.
Along those lines, the effort includes raising awareness in regards to the danger prescription drugs represent as they lay fallow in medicine cabinets. “Kids experiment with them, and that can lead to heroin use. So we partner with doctors to prescribe medications in the safest manner possible. We also have take back programs to get the extra drugs out of the home,” said Parker.
The conversation eventually coming to a close, Congressman Maloney implored it not to end nonetheless. “We’ve got to keep talking about it and get smart as communities,” concluded the congressman.
Rich Monetti coverage of event with Sean Patrick Maloney, Gerald Schramek, Martin Colavito, Kristin McConnell, Chunacey Parker and Hudson Valley constituents