Drug Addiction in Dutchess County

By Luca Balbo & Jamelia Thompson

Bang! Bang! Were the noises that sounded from the .22 rifle. There were aimless bullets shooting at a seemingly dark and lonesome house. One of the stray bullets entered into the house puncturing a wooden table and causing shards of wood to pierce through a mother’s leg. The scene was intended to bring justice to an alleged rape victim, said Luis Rodriguez, 28. Rodriguez and two of his friends intended to scare the alleged rapist. This was all while under the influence of cocaine.

According to Kari Reiber, MD, the county’s commissioner of health, said, “In Dutchess County alone, the number of drug-overdose deaths has exploded from nine in 2000 to 79 in 2013.” Rodriguez, though, has been an active user of cocaine, heroin and marijuana; he is a recovering opiate addict. Opiates are alkaloid compounds found naturally in the opium poppy plant Papaver somniferum.[1] The psychoactive compounds found in the opium plant include morphine, codeine, and thebaine.

On Dec. 11, 2016, Rodriguez will be celebrating six months drug-free. He started using opiates at the age of 16-years-old.

“It was curiosity combined with the grieving over the loss of my father,” he said. “My mother let me do whatever I wanted because she felt bad to say no.”

Rodriguez expressed that the sensations that opiates gave him were “numbing both mentally and physically.” Like most addictions, they give off the illusion of getting rid of one’s problems; however this illusion only last for “the duration of your high.”

The short-term effects of opiate use can include:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Pain relief
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation

While Rodriguez was fortunate to bounce back from his addiction, in some cases others are not able to subside their urges. He confided about a close friend name Rory who unfortunately passed away due to an overdose of Suboxone. Rory, whose last name Rodriguez asked to be kept confidential, was only 26-years-old. The death of Rory was and still continues to be very heartbreaking one for Rodriguez. He explained that Rory made up the 12th member of their friend group called the MillerHillCrew.

According to Hudson Valley Magazine, in Dutchess County alone, the number of drug-overdose deaths has exploded from nine in 2000 to 79 in 2013. Of the 262 overdose deaths in the county in the past five years, more than 80 percent were opioid-related. However, in a more recent article from the Poughkeepsie Journal, it reported that accidental drug overdose deaths in Dutchess County jumped 31 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Among people ages 18 to 24, there is a much higher risk of opioid abuse. Though Rodriguez was 16 when he started using, statistics prove that opioid abuse among the younger generation is more prevalent. In fact, Luca and myself set out on a journey to various hospitals in seek of general information about drug admittees. Many of the medical staff were not willing to speak to the press except for a receptionist at Vassar College who offered her own thoughts about the drug epidemic in Dutchess County.

“My daughter teaches at the Highland school district and this year alone she has attended three funerals that were a result of drug overdoses,” the receptionist said. The receptionist went on to talk about how the drug problem has spiraled out of control and that the cheap cost and access to drugs, specifically heroin, has contributed to the growing incidents.

Eventually though, Vassar Brothers Hospital’s Public Affairs agent John Nelson did release a statement on their behalf. Using data from their emergency department he said:

“Between November 2015 and November 2016, the Vassar Brothers Medical Center Emergency Department saw 949 patients with a diagnosis of opioid dependence with a median number of 76 per month. Of those, 102 were between the ages of 18 and 26. The highest months were November 2015 and March 2016, with 87 patients seen in each month. The lowest number of patients seen with the diagnosis in a month in that time span was 50 in February 2016. In November 2016, 72 patients with a diagnosis of opioid dependence came to the Vassar Brothers Medical Center Emergency Department. Of those, only six were between the ages of 18 and 26.”

According to the Dutchess County Community Health Status Report, “The rates of fatal and non-fatal overdose from heroin and prescription pain relievers have surged locally, regionally, and nationally over the past decade.”

Rodriguez admitted to noticing a pattern of drug history among the youths in his own family. Though his brother, aunts, uncles, a few cousins and grandfather all have battled with some form of addiction he noted that “the younger generation in my opinion are hooked on cocaine and opioid while the older generation seemed more hooked on alcohol.”

Rodriguez was aware that his addiction was affecting himself as well as his loved ones but he consciously chose to do nothing about it. When asked at what point in his life he noticed that his drug usage was an issue, he let out a short laugh. “I giggled because it took me a while to realize that I was in denial,” he said. “The first time I got into rehab it was because of the drive by shooting I did with my friends at 18.”

Saint Christopher’s Inn in Garrison, New York, was the facility Rodriguez attended for therapy. “I fell so in love with the place,” he said. “It has a lot of history. The Catholic cross is very distinctive there and now I have that same cross tattooed across my back.”

He attended a program there which lasted for 90 days and the experience “immensely” changed his life. From his participation, he was able to gain a spiritual perspective on things.

As Rodriguez reflected upon his journey he assured that drug addiction is an illness that is always dormant. His actions has caused him a lifetime of health issues that are often on and off. These include ADD, Depression, OCD and anxiety. Rodriguez also wanted others to be mindful of the judgments they pass about addicts, to be remindful of the stereotypes they associate with them.

“It’s a delicate subject and at the same time it messes up everything. It’s a Tasmanian Devil going through your life.”

Heroin

As the demand for heroin increases among the county, it seems as though the price to get it decreases. Reports are showing that it can cost as little as five dollars a stamp bag, which is the equivalent to one hit for people to buy. This rates as one of the cheapest drugs on the street.

And not only has it become one of the cheapest drugs around but it has also become one of the most dangerous to use. With so many different strains of heroin and tainted versions as well, cops in the area and across the state are working extra hard to keep the drug off the streets.

The New York Times says, “Fentanyl represents the latest wave of a rolling drug epidemic that has been fueled by prescription painkillers, as addicts continue to seek higher highs and cheaper fixes.”

Accessibility, affordability and curiosity are factors that are contributing to the speedy rise of the heroin and opiate addiction. As painkillers become too expensive and more regulated by the government for drug abusers, they eventually move on to the next best alternative, which is currently the use of bad batches of heroin, laced with Fentanyl.

Just how powerful is a substance like Fentanyl? According to The New York Times “Fentanyl, which looks like heroin, is a powerful synthetic painkiller that has been laced into heroin but is increasingly being sold by itself — often without the user’s knowledge. It is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. A tiny bit can be fatal.”

“There has been an increased incidence of drug overdoses secondary to cocaine and heroin abuse in New York State, more so in the younger patient population,” Dr. Valerie Michaelidis said “The reason for the rise remains unclear, but nevertheless there needs to be an increase in awareness in both the communities and the medical field to approach this serious issue head on.”

Other experts weighed in on the crisis taking over the state and country, Dr. Denise S. Burns said, “certain areas of our country are worse than others, while it used to be that more affluent communities would try heroin and cocaine now it’s more affordable and accessible for all people to try.”

It’s not just the rise of usage that is the only problem but the lack of control and knowledge people have before they experiment with new drugs. There are so many factors to take into consideration when heroin and opioids come into the picture. “For one thing patients regularly abusing opioids is debilitating to their health and life,” said Dr. Burns.

Whether the many drugs are consumed orally, through an IV, nasally or smoked, the repercussions can last a lifetime. Patience can experience mental disorder, liver issues, HIV from needles, hepatitis C and much more. Overall from a doctor’s perspective, the abuse of any drug is going to have serious and unfortunate side effects and if patients are lucky they will not overdose and die even after one hit of the drug.

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