Many parents say their child won’t become an addict, but that’s what happened to Theresa DeLone of Henrietta.
DeLone testified before members of a state Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction about how addiction cost her son friends and jobs and how he turned into someone his family did not recognize.
Anger, worry and fear are only a few of the emotions she and other family members experienced over many sleepless nights as her son suffered in the throes of addiction and, after he reached out for help, was turned away from the treatment he needed.
DeLone sometimes felt her son, who now is nearly nine months sober, was safer in jail then on the outside dealing with his addiction alone.
“It is an equal opportunity destroyer,” DeLone said. “Too many of our young people are dying and we’re not talking about the things that are most important.”
State Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, and state Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Long Island, on Tuesday hosted a forum on heroin and opioid addiction, which was the second of 12 scheduled hearings across the state to help lawmakers craft legislation to address the issue.
“This is certainly not just a New York City problem,” Robach said. “It’s urban, suburban and is probably hitting every demographic of the state.”
The statistics appear to back him up, and they point to an epidemic locally and across the state, particularly among young people.
An addict today tends to be 16 to 29 years old, which is very different from even five years ago, said Jennifer Faringer, director of the Rochester chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.
The average addict is white, with an increasing number of female users. They come from the cities, suburbs and rural areas.
“The entry level drug is not heroin,” Robach said. “It’s something else.”
In many cases, young people are first exposed to legal opiates, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin or Percocet. The perception of risk is lower among young people because they are prescribed by doctors, and the stigma of addiction is powerful and prevents kids from reaching out, said Jessica Sherman, program director of Face 2 Face, an early education and intervention program in Buffalo.
“Addiction is attacking the average American teenager,” Sherman said.
While the street cost of a prescription opiate ranges from $80 to $100, a bag of heroin can go for as little as $10, Faringer said. Heroin is extremely accessible and more potent, and may be cut with synthetic drugs. The potency and variability of the drug poses additional risk.
“It’s buyer beware,” Faringer said.
Monroe County Undersheriff William Sanborn said heroin sales and use are up locally, as are property crimes. Sanborn offered statistics from the county medical examiner’s office that report 65 regional heroin deaths in 2013, up from 11 in 2011.
Also last year, 634 inmates self-reported opiate addiction, and 168 in the first quarter of this year and 71 in March alone, Sanborn said.
James Wesley, drug chemistry supervisor at the Monroe County Crime Lab, said a typical drug arrest in 2011 would result in 16 decks, or bags, of heroin. Now, the number is 49 decks, he said.
“We are in the middle of a heroin and prescription pill epidemic,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.
Families who spoke of addiction’s toll has had urged insurance companies to better fund treatment of the problem, which many say requires long-term, intensive, residential care. Right now, families are draining savings and retirement accounts for care.
Boyle shared a story from a similar hearing in Long Island, in which an addict was coached on ways to be arrested.
“The treatment they’re going to get is in prison,” Boyle said.
A lengthy list of people had signed up to give testimony, including Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorlery. Several speakers suggested increasing prescription drug take-back programs and cautioned doctors to not over-prescribe medications to help with the problem.
A multi-pronged approach to legislation dealing with the problem will include prevention measures, treatment options and law enforcement, which may include harsher penalties for dealers, Boyle said.
A report based on testimony gathered at these hearings is scheduled to be released June 1, which would be the base of legislation lawmakers hope to pass by the end of the June session.
“We’re under a tight time frame,” Boyle said. “I think we can do it.”