Last year in Oneida County there were 12 deaths from heroin overdoses. Lawmakers are trying curb that trend of increased abuse. The New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction was created to find ways to prevent addiction.
UTICA, N.Y. -- The group held a forum Tuesday in Utica with the intention of gathering information from the community on what could be done to stop heroin abuse and addiction.
Some ideas discussed at the forum were improving access to detox facilities and in-patient treatment programs.
The task force will compile input from twelve forums held around the state and develop legislative recommendations. There's no debating heroin use has gone up.
"We manage one of the larger jails in the state," said Robert Maciol, Oneida County Sheriff. "You see some scary numbers. When you compare like the last quarter of '13 to the first quarter of '14 we've seen a 39 percent spike in the inmates coming in who are admitted to using heroin."
According to the sheriff, heroin abuse has also increased robbery and theft. Those are crimes addicts sometimes commit in order to fund their habit.
This year two people in Oneida County have already died from heroin overdoses. But the government is working to keep that number from rising. Last week New York State Attorney General announced the Community Overdose Prevention program. It will allow every state and local law enforcement officer to carry a nasal spray called Narcan. It regulates breathing and can reverse effects of a heroin overdose.
Sheriff Maciol says he has already applied for funding to bring Narcan to local officers.
"It is something that I think all first responders, whether we're talking police, paramedics, firefighters, hospital staff and again this is no one taking anyone else's job, this is a matter of doing what we can as soon as we can to save a life," said Maciol.
Some experts suggest a state law enacted last year to curb prescription drug abuse could be a factor in the increased use of heroin. It's called I-STOP and requires providers to consult an online registry before writing prescriptions for certain substances.
"They're cutting back on the number of opiates that they prescribe so people who were using opiates in the past are looking for substitutes," said Donna Vitagliano, CEO of Insight House Chemical Dependency Services. "So heroin is available and affordable."
The Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara says on the street, prescription opioids cost $20 per pill. McNamara says a bag of heroin only costs half that amount.
People working to prevent addiction say it will take a collaborative effort from doctors and educational prevention programs to reduce heroin abuse.
"We need to get educators on our side, law enforcement," said Sheriff Maciol. "To stress to people the horiffic effects of drug abuse and heroin abuse and the horiffic addiction potential there is. It's definitely proven that using heroin once or twice can cause an addiction that spins out of control rapidly."