Bringing a drug epidemic into public view

Posted at: 07/18/2013 10:33 AM
Updated at: 07/18/2013 10:51 AM
By: Dan Levy

Community members attend a meeting in Averill Park last night, aimed at combating a heroin epidemic.
Community members attend a meeting in Averill Park last night, aimed at combating a heroin epidemic.

AVERILL PARK - An apparent heroin trend happening in a local school district like never before. In the Averill Park community, two people have died from heroin overdoses in just the last two weeks, and there have been many other cases.

Wednesday night, the community began a public campaign to address the problem.

It's not just because of deaths and overdoses that people know there's a drug problem in Averill Park. Every couple of years the school district surveys students -- so they know there's increased marijuana and alcohol use beginning in the 8th grade. They know that 52% of the students think there's no risk taking drugs. Those are the attitudes that need to change, and that's the age group everyone needs to focus on.

The size of the turnout at the Averill Park Fire House was not only an indicator of the size of the problem, it was also a message of necessity that the deadly drug problem needs to be turned around.

“Not only do we need to intervene because there's a serious problem right now, but we also need to continue to work towards prevention,” said Maryann Strauss, a Community Prevention Coordinator in Rensselaer County.

In a community where heroin use is reportedly on the rise, also running rampant is widespread denial.

“It's not my kid. My kids are good kids with the recent deaths they're coming from good families, good hard working families,” said Stuart Nippes, an Averill Park School Board member.

“Fortunately we never had to go through this but my heart goes out to the parents who are. I can't imagine having to bury your 19 year old child,” said Dori Salisbury, another School Board member.

The meeting included information, anecdotes and advice from high school guidance counselors, from law enforcement officials, and from drug program coordinators.

State Police Investigator Eric Cullum says drugs affect everyone in the community. “Our burglary cases, copper theft cases just blew me. They're going leaps and bounds,” said Cullum.

“You see something, say something…If I can see this, so can you. So if you're filming this drug dealer beware, because you see all these people in the room? They're watching you,” said Linda Martino, of West Sand Lake. She suggests everyone needs to be the eyes and ears of the community when there's suspicious activity.

Averill Park High School senior Sara Weaver wants to encourage more of her classmates to join the school's SADD chapter. “Tell your kids, it's not something to be ashamed of I was so ashamed. I met Mrs. O'Neill and she's changed my life so much,” said Weaver. “This isn't just going to be a session where we just talk about our concerns and something happens. The point is something has to happen and it will,” says Strauss.

Drug counseling drug counseling experts says heroin usage is most prevalent with the 18 to 25 age group -- which means it is a significant issue for local colleges. They also insist that drug education works pointing to statistics indicating increased prevention efforts lead to lower drug usage.