By Melissa Stagnaro
Special to The Evening Sun
CHENANGO COUNTY – It all started when I was injured and my doctor prescribed me opiate medication for my pain.’
That’s the story that James Everard, coordinator of Chenango County’s Drug Treatment Court, says he has been hearing from heroin addicts for the last five years.
As someone who has dedicated his career to aiding the recovery and rehabilitation of people with drug and alcohol issues, Everard has great insight into the drug problem in Chenango County.
News of a drug bust or an overdose may cause a stir when it hits the headlines, but according to Everard, the severity of the problem – and its impact on the community – is something the general public doesn’t realize.
“I think they would be shocked,” he said.
According to Everard, Chenango County started seeing an influx in heroin use around 2008. That’s when, in an effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse, New York State started holding doctors more accountable for the medication – particularly narcotic painkillers – they prescribed.
“A lot of the people who could no longer get those drugs started using heroin,” explained Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride, which was a cheaper option to feed their opiate addiction.
Since then, use of heroin has become the county’s biggest drug concern.
“You can find heroin in every community, big or small, in Chenango County,” Everard said.
According to McBride, heroin use crosses all socio-economic groups, and there is no one demographic that is more susceptible or prone to use or addiction. But Everard has noticed one trend: a much younger age group are now using the highly-addictive drug, and using it intravenously.
“It’s less expensive than pills, and because (of) the purity…a young person becomes addicted very quickly,” he explained.
There are other trends both Everard and McBride have noticed. One is the influx of out-of-town drug dealers. A lack of employment opportunities in the area means that these out-of-towners have no trouble finding locals to peddle their wares.
“The new recruits get paid in heroin, enough to maintain their addiction and avoid the discomfort of withdrawal,” said Everard.
Arrests and convictions for drug possession have been on the rise, but they only tell part of the story when it comes to drug-related crime. According to McBride, 58 percent of the Chenango County’s District Attorney’s Office’s current 88 open cases are drug or alcohol related. And that doesn’t take into account the crimes that go unreported.
“Stealing from family members is usually the first crime an addicted person commits,” said Everard. “This can go on for a long time. The impact on a family unit is devastating.”
There is also the public health risk that heroin presents.
“There has been a dramatic increase in hepatitis cases and other types of infections that go untreated and become more serious,” Everard explained. These infections are spread by sharing needles.
Overdoses are on the rise as well, he said, which in some tragic cases have lead to death. These deaths leave the entire community reeling, not only family and friends.