Officials participate in state drug forum
PENN YAN--More than 20 area educators, law enforcement, health officials and residents spoke in front of the New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction Tuesday, Feb. 23. The meeting was held in the Penn Yan middle school auditorium and was attended by more than 150 people. The task force heard the testimony of each panelist in an effort to identify possible measures the state can take to improve the issues being caused by the recent spike in heroin usage across the region, state and country.
The meeting took nearly three and a half hours as each panelist highlighted how the heroin problem has impacted them or their area and provided the task force with suggestions on how to combat the issue. The task force also allowed nine crowd members to give their opinions following the conclusion of the testimony.
State Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I--Big Flats) presided over the meeting along with Senators Terrence P. Murphy (R--Yorktown), George Amedore (R--Rotterdam), Robert Ortt (R--North Tonawanda) and Rich Funke (R--Penfield). State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I--Corning) also attended as a guest.
The first panel consisted of law enforcement officials that included both Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman Jr. and Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary. Yessman highlighted the difficulties of having the second smallest jail in the state, adding there needs to not only be more money for law enforcement to investigate drug crimes, but also for more available recovery services for addicts who need help. He said he has seen cases where someone has been saved from an overdose using Narcan only to be arrested the next day for possession.
"In 30 years, I have never seen a drug come in and take hold like heroin has," Yessman said.
Fazzary also noted there have been 18 reported opioid overdoses in Schuyler County in the last four months, with six of those resulting in deaths. He highlighted the difficulties of arresting and prosecuting someone for selling drugs, adding it is not as simple as finding someone selling on a street corner. Fazzary said law enforcement often have to use informants, adding it can still take six to eight months for an arrest to not tip anyone off who the informant was.
Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips also spoke as part of a panel of educators that included Penn Yan Superintendent Howard Dennis and Dundee Superintendent Kelly Houck. Phillips said a greater sense of community as well as more before and after school programs can help prevent drug use from happening in the first place.
"Some of the best money ever spent by the state of New York was for the school resource officer program," Phillips said. However, he said the situation does not necessarily mean the state has to spend extra money, but instead find the funds that are not well utilized in the duplication of services in the community.
Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency (FLACRA) Clinic Manager Danielle Tilden spoke as part of a panel of area health officials. She said there is typically a significant wait time for service for people suffering from addiction, adding many people cannot wait six to eight days for detox. Tilden said there needs to be more immediate services for people, as many addicts who seek help need it right away.