Drug abuse was at the center of a late February town hall, hosted by three members of the New York State Senate’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction in hopes of shedding light on an issue they claim is spiraling out of control in Southern Brooklyn.
“The heroin and opioid epidemic is destroying lives, families and our communities in our city and our state,” said State Senator Marty Golden, who sponsored the public hearing – held on Friday, February 26 at the Knights of Columbus, 1305 86th Street – alongside State Senators George Amedore Jr. of Ulster County and Terrance Murphy of Putnam County.
Heroin, available on the streets most times for less than $10 a bag, affects both the old and the young, the wealthy and the poor, asserted Golden.
“Heroin does not discriminate against race or religion or economic status,” he said, noting that, in recent weeks, six people in the Southwest Brooklyn area have overdosed on drugs, including the children of two local doctors and one 35-year-old man who was staying at the Prince Hotel. “Anyone can fall victim to its deadly grip.”
The number of victims, officials testified, has risen (despite a coinciding jump in heroin-related arrests by the New York City Police Department) thanks, in part, to the drug’s availability.
“This flood of heroin going into and out of New York City has surged to the highest level in more than two decades,” said Golden who, with his colleagues, hopes to help change the laws pertaining to how much can get you locked up, given that today’s heroin is more concentrated, so less is necessary for a high. “It’s like Chinese take-out, or getting a pizza delivered to your home. The heroin is coming right to the door. It’s that simple and it’s that pervasive and, unfortunately, it’s being delivered right into the hands of these desperate users and addicts.”
Other speakers included New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan who testified to the crowded room that the growing number of heroin addictions can be linked to an alarmingly high number of New Yorkers being prescribed painkillers.
“For the new addict, the gateway is pills,” she said, contending that, in 2014 alone, 1.3 million prescriptions for Oxycodone were filled in New York City and that, today, heroin deaths have actually outpaced murders citywide. “There is much to be done. The problem was long in the making and we need all hands on in solving this.”
That, task force members said, is why the hearing was called.
“It is absolutely an incredible issue that we are dealing with,” said Murphy, who hopes to destigmatize the issue. “To be able to come down here and say a few words is just an absolute honor and a privilege.”
Also on the agenda were testimonies from Assistant Chief Brian McCarthy, commanding officer of the criminal enterprise division of the NYPD; Captain Theodore Lauterborn, Narcotics, NYPD Borough Brooklyn South; Dr. Hillary Kunins, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene assistant commissioner, Bureau of Alcohol & Drug Use, Prevention, Treatment & Care; Donna Mae De Pola, president and CEO of the Resource Training & Counseling Center; William Fusco, executive director of Dynamic Youth Community, Inc.; Karen Remy, chief program officer of Turning Point Community Services; Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10; David Bochner, Cornerstone Medical Arts Center; Kristin Miller, director, Corporation for Supportive Housing; and John Hellman, assistant VP of advocacy and communications for BOOM!Health.