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.
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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