Poughkeepsie Journal, 11:17 PM, Aug. 14, 2011
When Pawling teenager Shane Smith was killed in a car-motorcycle accident inJuly 2009, police discovered the 21-year-old man who was driving the car was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
The substance Johnson had ingested wasn’t alcohol or cocaine. It was heroin.
And in the two years since then, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and substance abuse counselors say, heroin use among young people in Dutchess County has increased substantially.
“Heroin has become a middle-class phenomenon here,” said Michael North, director of the county Department of Mental Hygiene’s Intensive Treatment Alternative Program. ITAP is a drug rehabilitation program for those accused or convicted of crimes.
North said about 28 percent of his clients had heroin addictions in 2009, but the number has risen to more than 50 percent this year.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s peaked yet, either,” North said.
Those who are arresting and prosecuting drug users and traffickers say they’ve been seeing heroin use grow for at least three years.
“In 2008, about 25 percent of our cases involved heroin. Now, it’s about 60 percent,” said Frank Tasciotti, a coordinator of the Dutchess County Drug Task Force.
Tasciotti and Brett Orlich, another member of the task force, attributed the rise in heroin use to the easy availability of opium-based prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.
“Young people are getting hooked on those drugs, then if they can’t get them, they turn to heroin,” Orlich said.
He said many of those who become addicted don’t know how dangerous the drug can be.
“With a lot of drugs, if you take too much, you pass out,” Orlich said. “With heroin, you OD and you’re dead. It’s a very unforgiving drug.”
Dutchess County Senior Assistant Public Defender David Martin said heroin had become the “drug of choice” for many of his clients.
“We’re seeing a brand-new bunch of people — young people from the suburbs — showing up in court with heroin addictions,” Martin said.
Aviv Segal, a prosecutor with the county district attorney’s Narcotics Bureau, said the price of heroin has dropped steadily as supplies have increased in the past three or four years, leading more young people to try it.
“And the thing about heroin is how quickly it’s addictive,” the prosector said. “There are very few recreational heroin users out there.”
“Crime Beat,” which explores law enforcement issues and cases worked by police in the Mid-Hudson Valley, appears each Monday. To suggest a topic, call 845-437-4834. Reach Larry Hertz at firstname.lastname@example.org at 845-437-4824.