IRVING - Insiders from law enforcement gathered recently to weigh in on the heroin epidemic at the recent forum held by the Seneca Nation of Indians' Drug and Alcohol Abuse Task Force and the New York State Senate's Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction.
"Because the scourge of heroin abuse in our communities has grown to such overwhelming levels, we recognized that we need to work together on finding effective solutions," State Senator Catharine Young said.
Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan called this a "premier issue" for the county and proposed a five step plan to address it. These steps included media; education and prevention; court, probation and law enforcement; treatment and access; and advocacy.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan (right) listens to input from law enforcement officials at the recent heroin and opioid addiction forum.
"I think that's when we as ordinary citizens make the difference. When you raise your voices and say 'Enough, we need to get this problem under control and we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore,'" he said of the advocacy part of the plan.
The panel was the 18th held across the state by the senate's task force, but it was a first of its kind because of the collaborative nature of the event. Chair of the task force, state Senator Phil Boyle of Suffolk County, reassured contributors that the senate plans to take action on these problems, not years from now, but within weeks.
Members of local law enforcement highlighted how, not only do they deal with addiction issues on the street, but also behind bars.
Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb said they struggle to meet the dependency and mental health needs of the many heroin and opioid addicted inmates inside the county jail.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace echoed this, saying right now the only thing the county jail can offer inmates is a medication regimen.
"You hear many people say the time of arrest was the moment they started their path off drugs. ... We do not have the resources to have the impact on inmates we would like to have," he said.
Drug Enforcement Administration Agent in Charge in Buffalo Michelle Spahn said the DEA has seen a huge increase of heroin seizures, which are mostly transported from New York City to western New York. She said the DEA has successful prescription drug take back events every year.
Another law enforcement representative suggested giving patrol officers a list of numbers for services they can give to people who ask for help.
Evans Police Chief Ernest Masullo said the issue on heroin needs to be treated like the campaign against littering.
"You have to keep the message fresh. It must be constant, strong and early," he said.
District attorneys for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, David Foley and Lori Pettit Rieman, suggested harsher punishments for those selling drugs and other options besides jail for addicts and those selling drugs to feed their addiction. Young said this is going to be addressed in the legislation.
Young said the information gathered from the forum will be used to craft appropriate legislation to help with some of the problems associated with the increasing heroin and opioid problem.
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