Part I: Heroin Stalks Main Street

Local users include adults and students

By Michael Turton

When a celebrity such as Philip Seymour Hoffman dies of a suspected heroin overdose it creates a media frenzy. When someone dies of a drug overdose in Putnam County it is rarely news at all. Steve Salomone of the community action organization Drug Crisis in Our Backyard told The Paper as many as 14 deaths were attributed to drug overdose in Putnam County in 2013. His own son died of a heroin overdose. This is the first of three articles on local drug use, heroin in particular. Identities have been changed, including use of false first names, for those who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Adult voices

Franco is a middle-aged Philipstown resident. Alcoholics Anonymous helped him beat long-term addiction that at times included heroin, cocaine, painkillers, marijuana and alcohol. His son, a student at Haldane High School, has tried marijuana. “We talk about drugs really well,” Franco said. Talking has included tough questions from a son whose mother also battles drug addiction.

According to Franco, the local drug scene demands openness between parents and children. “I know that my son and every other kid in town knows where to get heroin,” he said. “Kids here don’t have to steal to pay for it. They have money. And heroin is easier and cheaper than the stuff in their parents’ medicine cabinet.”

Views vary as to whether or not marijuana can lead to more serious drugs including heroin. “Pot is a gateway drug,” Franco said. “Think about it. You’re at someone else’s house, already taking something that’s illegal. There’s something else there (another drug), so kids think – why not? Just the fact that heroin is so available now is a huge difference from the past.”

Judy, a Philipstown resident, is in her 50s. She’s clean now but her path to drug addiction was one of the most common. After sustaining an injury she was prescribed codeine-based pain pills. The problem? “I liked it,” she recalls. Pain pills led her to a variety of drugs including LSD and cocaine. And she became addicted to heroin. Judy was not lazy — or dishonest. She recounts with some pride that she worked hard and did not steal to pay for her $700-a-week habit.

After several unsuccessful attempts to quit cold turkey, buprenorphine-based therapy, an alternative to methadone, helped her beat her addiction. “It was extremely difficult,” she said, difficult enough that it took her two years to be weaned off the therapy drug.

Addiction to pain pills often leads to use of heroin because of its low cost. One hit can cost as little as $10.

Addiction to pain pills often leads to use of heroin because of its low cost. One hit can cost as little as $10.

Len is a young adult and a life-long Philipstown resident. A former heroin user, he also beat his addiction through treatment. While on heroin he was part of a circle of addicts in Philipstown, Fishkill and nearby areas that included as many as 50 users. He thinks heroin is still a big problem locally. “People are not taking it seriously. You cannot just stop taking heroin. You’re going to be depressed for multiple months. In extreme cases for two years.”

And he says quitting cannot be done alone. “You have to have a diverse network helping you. You need rehab. You have to have your family. You have to be in AA – multiple meetings, sometimes in one day.”

He said that beating his heroin addiction was tremendously difficult because of the withdrawals. “Imagine waking up every day with the flu. Aching all over. Every day.” Addicts, he said, will do anything to avoid withdrawals. “When I was in high school no one did heroin. Now I understand they do.”

Student survey

The Carmel-based Putnam County Communities that Care Coalition (PCCCC) conducts a biennial survey of students in grades eight through 12 that includes questions on drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Combined Putnam County data is made public however individual school districts must approve release of their data. PCCCC surveys don’t include enough data to indicate distinct trends but they do provide a glimpse into heroin use by students county-wide and at Haldane.

PCCCC Survey results regarding heroin use*

Putnam County students in grades eight through 12

Students who said they had used heroin
2008 — 0.9 percent or 45 students of 4,990 surveyed
2010 — 1.9 percent or 76 students of 3,981 surveyed
2012 — 1.2 percent or 56 students of 4,648 surveyed

Students who said they used heroin within the past 30 days
2008 — 0.4 percent or 20 students of 4,990 surveyed
2010 — 0.9 percent or 35 students of 3,981 surveyed
2012 — 0.6 percent or 28 students of 4,648 surveyed

Haldane survey

Students who said they had used heroin in grades eight through 12
2008 — 0.7 percent or 2 students of 302 surveyed
2010 — 1.4 percent or 4 students of 289 surveyed
2012 — 2.0 percent or 5 students of 263 surveyed

Students reporting use of heroin within 30 days of taking the survey (grades eight through 12)
2008 — 0.3 percent or 1 student of 302 surveyed
2010 — 0.3 percent or 1 student of 289 surveyed
2012 — 0.8 percent or 2 students of 263 surveyed

*Number of students varies as participation is not mandatory.

Three student voices

Three Haldane High School students contacted by The Paper agreed to comment anonymously on the local drug situation. Each was asked the same questions. All three said they know at least one person who has used heroin — yet none knows anyone who used cocaine. All three said they know of at least one Haldane student who has been in drug rehab. All three said they had at least tried marijuana. Each regards boredom as a major factor that leads kids to take drugs.

Brian said that students who use heroin are also usually using other drugs. While there are students who will sell him drugs if he asks — he said that no one at Haldane is pushing him to buy. “But if you know who to ask — you can get anything.”

“People are not taking it seriously. You cannot just stop taking heroin."

“People are not taking it seriously. You cannot just stop taking heroin.”

Ann has a similar view, saying that students at Haldane likely don’t have heroin to sell but that most know who to ask, often someone older and not associated with the school — including college students and Haldane graduates.

She feels that the drug problem at Haldane is not as serious as at other schools. “You have a lot better chance of not getting in trouble if your parents care. If they know where you are. If you have a curfew. And it’s different if your family has a history of drug use.” A close relative of Ann’s died in a drug-related incident. “My mom stressed that story a lot. It made me think.”

Carl agreed that the actual sale of drugs at Haldane is not a big issue. Drugs are used “… for recreation definitely – but not for sale. It’s almost like a group activity.” He said the kids who do serious drugs are often in trouble in other areas of school life as well, and that in the case of trouble kids, “Their parents may care — but they’re just not usually around.” He feels that the school tends to be lenient on drug offenses.

Next week’s article will feature other voices including parents, educators, law enforcement and the courts and rehabilitation programs.

Photos by M. Turton


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13 thoughts on “Part I: Heroin Stalks Main Street

  1. A fine piece of reporting by Turton on a drug problem that’s been ignored for too long. Keep it coming.

  2. I thought this article was very well done and extremely useful to our community. It’s often easy to see these problems as belonging “somewhere else” but unfortunately this issue pertains to Philipstown as much as elsewhere in the county. Thank you for bringing this to light. I look forward to the next segment.

  3. Great article by Mr. Turton on a very troubling subject. There has been a heroin epidemic in Putnam Valley for quite some time and it has taken its toll on quite a few young people who have lost their lives either literally or figuratively. I have heard it said that it’s easier and cheaper to get heroin than it is to buy a pack of cigarettes and I don’t doubt it’s true.

    One of the biggest problems is the way that drug addiction is treated nationally and locally, that is, that it is a crime to be dealt with by hiring more and more government-funded police to fight the ever more bogus “war on drugs.”

    As you drive around Putnam County, you see these large billboard signs courtesy of the sheriff’s office that proclaim, “I Want You to Report Drug Dealers” like these kids are really going to be ratting out their suppliers.

    That being said, we have to look at our culture today if we want to understand some of the roots of this problem. It stands to reason that a generation of young people who have no incentive to work, who are wired to their computers, who have less and less human interaction and few spiritual values would be prone to becoming drug addicts and/or alcoholics. There is no inner city underclass in Putnam County, yet the teenagers have adopted the dysfunction of the urban underclass because there’s not much for them to do. As Mark Steyn so eloquently explains, they have been “hollowed out by a loss of work and purpose.” Playing sports only goes so far.

    Sadly, heroin addiction is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

  4. Great article as it is necessary to bring this to light. So many of the Philipstown youth are raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets and using these drugs. They don’t know how serious it can become. Education is key. Pot is in no way a gateway drug to heroin or any other drug. Pot and heroin are two very different drugs.

  5. Such an important issue. Thanks to the writer and those interviewed for starting the conversation. Still, having read the article, I wondered if the picture painted was a bit too rosy. The addicts interviewed were all recovering addicts, giving a one-sided picture of the plight of being an addict.

    I do recognize that it would be much harder to secure an interview with current users and therefore harder to report the full picture.

    Also, I wonder about the perception of the interviewed kids that users are limited to the kids who’s parents “don’t care” or “are just not usually around.” Does that mean kids whose parents work? Maybe work two jobs? Are there kids in this community that we’ve written off?

    In any case, good to open the conversation. Hope it goes further.

  6. Thanks to Mike and to all for opening this up. .. let’s keep it open — Denial and secrecy make the drug trade even more deadly.

  7. Thanks for this great piece, Mike. I would like to let all readers know that there will be a drug information forum with Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy at Haldane School this Wednesday, Feb. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the auditorium. Haldane Interim Superintendent John Chambers, Principal Brian Alm and social worker Scott Many will also be in attendance. Full information is available in the press release from Adam Levy’s office.

  8. I began working here in Putnam County in 1999 as the program director for Chemical Dependency Treatment Services at Putnam Family and Community Services. At that time only 3 percent of people admitted to treatment used opiates, which included heroin and prescription narcotics. Currently more than 25 percent of our clients are addicted to these substances and the age of our clients is getting younger and younger. Most are between 18 and 25. In addition, there continues to be a startling number of deaths related to opiate overdose in our own community and throughout the nation. It is about time we all take off the blinders and realize addiction is a preventable and treatable disorder. It is in our very own backyard and it does not discriminate. Thank you for bringing this important issue into the light and thank you to those of you in recovery who are speaking out to offer hope to others.

  9. Excellent article, Mike. My hat is off to you and The Paper for doing genuine reporting on drug use and the connection to a sense of unhappiness felt by kids (described as “boredom,” but clearly it cuts much deeper than that).