Fighting Back: The Opioid Crisis (Part 2)

Beyond punishment: cops and courts rethink strategy

What is the role of law enforcement in battling the epidemic? Many officers and judges have reached the conclusion that imprisoning addicts is not enough.

“I don’t think arrests are going to enable us to get our arms around this problem,” said Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy at a forum in March at the Garrison School. “We’re doing so much, trying so hard, doing so well [with arrests and convictions], and the problem is getting worse.”

At the same time, police officers are saving lives. On Sept. 5, three Putnam County Sheriff’s deputies saved a Patterson man who apparently overdosed, by administering a nasal spray known as Narcan that acts as an opioid antidote.

Over the past few years, as more people have become addicted, two extreme positions appear to have formed. At one end of the continuum is Sheriff Richard Jones of Butler County, Ohio, where the death rate from overdoses is three times that of the Highlands. He has long refused to allow his deputies to carry Narcan. “We don’t do the shots for bee stings, we don’t inject diabetic people with insulin. When does it stop?” he has said. “I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick a needle in their arm.”

At the other is Eric Adams, a police officer in Laconia, New Hampshire, which without summer tourists is a city about the size of Beacon. In 2014 he became the first officer in the country with the title of prevention, enforcement and treatment coordinator. His business cards read: “The Laconia Police Department recognizes that substance misuse is a disease. We understand you can’t fight this alone.”

Earlier this year, Adams was profiled in The New York Times. A police officer who shows up to assist addicts and not arrest them is news. He listens to the scanner for overdoses, then drives to the scene in an unmarked cruiser. The moments after an addict wakes up from an overdose can be an excellent time to convince him or her to seek treatment, and Adams offers a ride.

The officer keeps a spreadsheet of every person he has helped. By his count, as of July, he had encountered 204 addicts: 92 are in treatment, 84 are in recovery, and zero have died.

We wanted to find out more about how law enforcement in the Highlands views the epidemic. Where do we fall between Sheriff Jones and Officer Adams? We decided to start where many addicts in Putnam County who are arrested end up, if they’re lucky — Drug Treatment Court.

This series has four parts.

In Part 1, reporters Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong spoke with the parents of young men who struggled with opioid addiction. One died, one survived, but they faced many of the same obstacles in getting treatment. We asked them to share their experiences, hoping it would provide a road map.

Intro // Sasha’s Story // Max’s Story

In Part 2, we examined the role of law enforcement and the courts in battling the epidemic. Turton looked at the work of the Putnam County Drug Court, while Jeff Simms spent time with Beacon and Dutchess County police officers who are at the front lines.

Intro // A Day in Drug Court // “We Can’t Get Our Regular Work Done” // Burlington Chief on Opioids, Crime

In Part 3, we explained treatment options. Brian PJ Cronin profiled the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, an innovative first stop for those in crisis, while Anita Peltonen and Armstrong visited treatment centers at Graymoor in Garrison, Arms Acres in Carmel and CoveCare Center (formerly Putnam Family & Community Services) in Carmel.

Intro // Dutchess County Stablization // Arms Acres // CoveCare // St. Christopher’s Inn // What Does It Cost?

Finally, in Part 4, we shared the thoughts of specialists, counselors, doctors and those struggling with addiction about what they feel should take priority in addressing the problem.

Intro // The Ways Out // Where to Find Help // The Opioid Crisis (Charts // Voices From Our Community (Video)

We appreciate your feedback about the series and thoughts about how best to address the epidemic. Email [email protected] or post a comment below.

3 thoughts on “Fighting Back: The Opioid Crisis (Part 2)

  1. Thanks for this important series on opioid addiction in the Hudson Valley. You may get to this in parts 3 or 4, but the “law-and-order” focus rather obscures the medical response that is required to treat these ailing members of our community. I don’t mean just a shot of Narcan for overdoses but a full-scale, morals-free, drug-supported treatment program from the start: Suboxone or methadone automatically, for life — not only after somebody’s flunked out of day treatment, relapsed X number of times, etc.

    Someone in your interviews said that opioid addiction was an illness — right! Not a crime, sin, moral failing, or psychological weakness that can/should simply be “walked off” with enough God and grit. If we wouldn’t expect someone with diabetes or cancer to survive his or her medical crisis without state-of-the-art medical treatment, why should we expect those with opioid addiction to fare any better without the same response? We need to get over our moralistic attitudes about drug use and go immediately to the medical therapies (however costly) required to alleviate this problem in cities and small towns across the U.S.

    Ironically, this epidemic, which has been an urban problem for decades, seems to have spread a lot wider lately courtesy of the pill-pushing medical establishment. Along with the irresponsible overprescribing of antibiotics, the rampant overprescribing of painkillers should be the subject of another report in The Current wherein the names of local doctors and clinics guilty of such practices are published.

    • New York state has since 2013 monitored opioid painkiller prescriptions, with mixed results. Last year the governor signed a law that limits initial prescriptions to a seven-day supply, with exceptions for chronic pain and hospice and palliative care.

      Under the Prescription Monitoring Program Registry run by the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, doctors and pharmacists must report opioid prescriptions within 24 hours as well as check the registry to identify a patient who may be abusing painkillers. In the three years after the registry went online, the number of patients given five or more painkiller prescriptions dispensed at five or more pharmacies in the previous six months fell by more than 160 percent (from 27 per 100,000 residents to 2.8).

      The results otherwise have been less dramatic. In Putnam, the number of opioid prescriptions fell 2.5 percent, to 506 per 1,000 residents, and in Dutchess, 7 percent, to 541. A study published last month in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that while the number of opioid prescriptions in New York is declining, the total quantity of opioids in the supply chain increased. It also found that painkiller overdoses leveled off after 2013, but heroin overdoses and deaths have continued to rise.

  2. I was in the area to visit Bannerman Castle when I picked up a copy of your newspaper in a corner café on Main Street in Beacon. I wanted to comment on your special report.

    On Long Island, there is a free, walk-in clinic, the Charles K. Post Addiction Treatment Center in West Brentwood, that accepts people no matter their ability to pay. A ride from a friend or relative or a Metro North/Amtrak connection to Long Island Railroad and cab are two ways to reach it.

    Also, if a person is on Medicaid, he or she can be taken to a county hospital or teaching hospital. If there is an underlying mental health issue, a dual diagnosis program that treats both the addiction and mental illness is ideal and probably most ef-fective. C.K. Post is one place.

    Good luck and God bless all who suffer from addiction. I am beginning to believe addicted persons have no more control than do Alzheimer’s patients or any other person affected with a brain disease.

    The why-can’t-you-just-stop or why-can’t-you-remember attitude won’t help or change anything. Someone ought to explain that to Richard Jones, the sheriff in Ohio who won’t let his deputies carry the opioid antidote Narcan.