Bay Ridge

State senate task force looks at heroin crisis

Testimony ‘brings chills down your spine,’ Golden says

February 29, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State senators Marty Golden, George Amedore Jr. and Terrance Murphy (left to right) are members of the Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas
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Three members of the New York State Senate came to Dyker Heights to hold a hearing on drug abuse on Friday and heard eye-opening testimony from experts who told the elected officials that the problem is reaching crisis proportions.

State Sens. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), George Amedore Jr. (R-Ulster County) and Terrance Murphy (R-Putman County) are members of the Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, a panel that has been appointed to gather information on the extent of the state’s drug problem. The task force is expected to issue a report containing recommendations on how to combat the problem.

“Heroin is the biggest issue in this community,” Golden said in his opening statement at the hearing, which took place at the Knights of Columbus John Hughes Council at 1305 86th St.

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Drug addiction is hitting communities all over the state and is cutting across all socio-economic groups, according to the experts. It has even found a foothold in solid, middle class neighborhoods like Dyker Heights, where homes sell for as much as $1 million. “Heroin does not discriminate. Anyone can fall into its deadly grip,” Golden said.

In recent weeks, six people in the Southwest Brooklyn area have suffered drug overdoses, according to Golden, who said one 35-year-old man overdosed at the Prince Hotel in Bay Ridge.

Making matters worse is the fact that heroin is easy to become addicted to, Golden said. “Two or three hits and that kid is addicted,” he warned.

There is also a serious shortage of beds in rehabilitation centers, according to experts, who said the shortage is particularly acute for addicts 18 years of age and younger.

Many heroin addicts start off by taking prescription pain killers, also known as opioids, and turn to heroin when they can no longer get their hands on pain killers, according to Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor.

“For the new addict, the gateway is pills,” Brennan testified. “Heroin is cheaper and it’s built to get high.”

In 2014, 1.3 million prescriptions for Oxycodone were filled in New York City, “a city of 8.5 million people,” said Brennan.

New York state’s I-STOP law was enacted to prevent so-called “doctor shopping,” in which addicts go from one physician to another to get new prescriptions.

But in many cases, the addiction is simply transferred from pain killers to heroin. Law enforcement is seeing an uptick in heroin on the streets.

In 2015, 1,000 pounds of heroin were seized by law enforcement in New York City. By contrast, in 2006, the figure was 600 pounds.

“The heroin we are seeing is very, very pure,” Brennan said, adding that it’s more potent and more deadly than it has been in the past.

The average drug user is now snorting heroin rather than injecting it into an arm with a hypodermic needle, Brennan said.

Heroin comes into the U.S. mainly from Mexico. It is transported across the country to New York City and is processed in the Bronx, according to Brennan, who said the processing plants “operate like factories.”

Brennan said that state laws enacted in recent years to declaw the stringent Rockefeller Drug laws of the 1970s have hampered law enforcement’s ability to combat narcotics. It is difficult to get low-level suspects to cooperate with prosecutors and lead investigators to bigger fish, like drug kingpins, because those low-level suspects don’t face much jail time to begin with, she said.

To illustrate her point, Brennan showed a video of a Sunset Park doctor illegally selling prescriptions to an undercover investigator. The doctor was convicted. He served only 30 days in jail and was able to keep his medical license.

“You need to throw the fear of God into them,” Brennan said.

Assistant Police Chief Brian McCarthy, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Narcotics Division, testified that heroin-related arrests in New York City are up. There were 3,243 arrests in 2014. That numbered jumped to 4,203 arrests in 2015.

In the vast majority of cases, cops find the heroin by executing search warrants, McCarthy said. “The search warrant is the primary way to find heroin,” he said.

Capt. Theodore Lauterborn, of the NYPD’s Brooklyn South Narcotics Unit, said there are fewer prescription pills on the streets but that the heroin is out there. “The up rise in heroin is starting to take place,” he testified.

The dealer “is no longer the traditional guy on the corner,” said Lauterborn, who added that the drug delivery system has become highly sophisticated.

Golden said the testimony he was hearing “brings chills down your spine.”

Amedore, who is the chairman of Senate’s Subcommittee on Substance Abuse, said the crisis has to be addressed on a number of different levels.

“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.

The Senate is looking at drug treatment programs. “Do we have enough of them? Where are the beds?” Amedore asked.

One of the goals, according to Murphy, is to “take away the stigma” of drug addiction. “You have really good kids who just got caught,” he said.

The task force also heard testimony from medical professionals, rehab clinic operators and community activists. Amedore and Murphy are co-chairmen of the task force, along with state Sen. Robert Ortt (R-Niagara County).


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