May 4, 2014

Editorial: An epidemic we can't ignore

Heroin leads to heartbreak, and there is too much of both in the North Country right now.

A State Senate hearing in Plattsburgh last week helped concentrate months of warning signs into a vivid message: Heroin use has increased in this area and is taking a terrible toll.

Heroin used to be a drug associated with desperate, inner-city addicts. If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably read the novel “Go Ask Alice,” about a teenager’s decline into heavy drug use and all the accompanying trauma: the pain of withdrawal, stealing and trading sex for drugs, homelessness.

It wasn’t something that happened in smalltown America.

Well, now it is. Heroin and other “hard” drugs have headed up the Northway and arrived in our neighborhoods.

The national effort to crack down on prescription-drug abuse has had a scary side effect. It has made heroin more appealing. And it’s affordable, selling for as little as $20 a bag.

Police have been telling us for months that overdose deaths in the North Country are increasing, that crime related to drugs is rising.

There’s another element to the story — the agonizing pain of local parents trying to pull their children from the vicious grip of drug use.

They are fighting a system that makes it almost impossible to straighten out lives: Insurance companies that won’t pay for treatment or limit the days to an inadequate number. Facilities that treat substance abuse but not the often-accompanying mental-health issues. Health plans that deal with mental and physical ailments separately and disproportionately. Too few treatment facilities in too few places with too few beds.

Local families are in distress, and the help they need is not available. Attacking this problem involves far more than police staffing. This is a social problem as much as it is a crime issue.

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