When local officials and volunteers gathered this Spring at Columbia Greene Community College’s Art Center Theater to discuss the current opioid crisis in upstate New York, there was no pretense regarding the monumental task that lay ahead. According to a 2016 NYSAC case study on the epidemic, “Between 2005-2014, the state documented a 115% increase in heroin treatment admissions in upstate New York and a 116% increase on Long Island. In all, approximately 1.4 million New Yorkers suffer from a substance abuse disorder.” Meghan Hetfield, a former addict turned certified recovery coach celebrating her seventh year of sobriety, knows first hand how dangerous a slide into addiction can be, “I was one of those people.” she says of her promising but pressure packed life as an accomplished teenager. Her accomplishments as a student athlete in high school eventually led to scholarship offers from several Division 1 Basketball universities. One would think the promise of a paid road through college and the possibility of turning pro would ensure young Meghan a comfortable upper class lifestyle and with it, contentment, but for a young girl dealing with the pressures of fame and expectation, things were different, “My conscious would simply tell me I wasn’t good enough.” as a result, Meghan began to use opiates to self-medicate as a teenager. Fortunately, with the same hard work and resolve that made her a star on the court, Meghan has spent nearly a decade not only sober, but using her story to help others in need of recovery help.
In the Hudson Valley, stories like Meghan’s are tragically all too common. As recently as 2017 in Columbia County an astonishing 84% of all Outpatient Emergency Department visits were related to opioid overdoses according to the New York State Department of Health. Nationwide, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid eighty to one hundred times stronger than morphine according to the DEA, was responsible for more than 20,000 deaths in 2016 while heroin accounted for approxametly 15,000. Forty years ago, heroin and its distribution were seen as more of an urban crime epidemic. Today, especially given the Hudson Valley’s proximity to New York City, the dynamics have changed. The distribution range has expanded into more rural areas not only because the drug is easier to obtain, but also cheaper to supply. For the past decade, as heroin use has grown an astonishing 500 percent, law enforcement has been forced to take a more tactical approach when confronting the issue. Currently in New York, there is no state statute for criminal death by drugs, meaning those who supply and deal illicit drugs are not eligible to be prosecuted for charges related to homicide as a result of an overdose. This means, in states like New York, prosecutors must find different ways to make dealers criminally liable. One possibility for local law enforcement might be to take advantage of its existing statutes regarding criminal negligence when it comes to homicide related deaths or manslaughter in the second degree.
Whatever the legal obstacles may be, law enforcement officials and community leaders are not standing idly by as the opioid germ continues to spread across our area. With the help of the local area youth, there has been a surge in grassroots in organizations like Youth Voices Matter whose mission is to “empower and inspire youth and young adults in communities across New York State to create, develop and collaboratively establish Youth Recovery Community Organizations while contributing and supporting the growth of each individual’s recovery process.” These campaigns driven by the fiery passions of communal support have changed the face of drug recovery in the Hudson Valley and have successfully caused a paradigm shift in the opioid crisis. Together, with local organizations working hand in hand with law enforcement, perhaps the cure for the opioid addiction virus lies within the very spirit of those directly affected.
All statistical information obtained from the DEA’s website as well as the National Association of Attorneys General or www.naag.org.
For more information on local recovery organizations please visit for-ny.org