May 15, 2014

Heroin abuse spreading through region

MALONE — The spotlight on heroin has shifted, about 70 attendees at an informational forum in Malone were told.

“Heroin in the ‘60s and ‘70s was viewed as an inner-city, junkie drug with most users being blacks and Hispanics," said Sam Mercado, a State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigator and drug-recognition expert. "But in 2014, it’s a white problem. 

“Heroin addicts look like 90 percent of the people in this room. When it becomes a white problem, now it’s getting attention.”

The heroin-overdose death of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman shifted the spotlight to the heroin problem, Mercado said.


The cycle of addiction starts with over-prescribing and abuse of painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicodin and Demerol for short-term conditions like dental work or minor surgery, Mercado said.

Once patients feel better and quit taking the prescription, they typically leave the unfinished portion in a medicine cabinet or other easily accessible site, where a visitor or relative could steal four or five pills or so.

Mercado said few people remember how many pills are left in a bottle, so there is little chance the painkillers would be missed.

The person who swiped the pills will either take them for the high or sell them for $1 a milligram, meaning each, say, 40-mg pill could net them a lot of cash. That can be used for other drugs, like heroin, since it is so readily available and cheap.

Mercado said disposing of unused medicines — either by dropping them off at a county jail or a police station — would keep pills out of circulation and lower the risk of a break-in by a drug addict looking for painkillers.


The forum, sponsored by North Star Behavioral Health Services and the Franklin County Prevention Task Force, brought together District Attorney Derek Champagne, Malone Village Police Chief Chris Premo and substance-abuse and mental-health professionals to discuss the local rise in heroin use and how the community could be part of the solution.

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