The enemy within: drugs in the NW Corner- Enforcers challenged to keep pace with new users
Last fall parents, school officials and other interested parties began asking questions about drug and alcohol abuse among young adults in Region One towns â€” recent graduates who still have significant interaction with students at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.
To address this concern, Patrick Sullivan has written a series of articles that explores the complexities of drug use and trafficking in the Northwest Corner. The series began last week with the story of a local heroin addict. The second article in the series examines the efforts of law enforcement in Litchfield County and Dutchess County to handle the heroin trade.
By PATRICK L. SULLIVAN
A woman in Amesville is convinced her neighbors are selling drugs. She bases this belief on the large number of cars that come and go at all hours, most only staying a few minutes, and on the erratic behavior of the tenants.
A man in Falls Village knows for a fact that heroin is being sold down the street. He knows this because his son, who is seeking treatment for heroin addiction, is a customer.
And a house in East Canaan is raided by state police, with one occupant charged with possession of heroin with intent to sell. The police responded to complaints from neighbors
During recent community forums, residents expressed frustration with the perceived ease with which drug dealers operate in the Northwest Cornerâ€™s small towns, and complained that calls to the police do not result in enough action.
Russ Bailey of the Dutchess County Sheriffâ€™s Department said making cases against local dealers is â€œvery difficult â€” you really have to work it. A lot of surveillance, a lot of talking to people, a lot of manpower and a lot of time.â€
Brian Crowell, an agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency based in Connecticut, explained in general terms how the drug traffickers operate in the Northwest Corner.
â€œThe heroin in our area comes from Columbia,â€ he said. â€œIt enters the United States at our southwestern borders, and is transported by mule [individual smugglers who sometimes swallow condoms filled with drugs] or by vehicle. Most of it goes through New York City.â€
The distribution network is â€œnot necessarily structured,â€ he added. â€œStreet dealers can get their supplies in any major city in Connecticut, although some will drive to New York [state].â€
Bailey echoed Crowellâ€™s observation. He named the cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon as particular hotspots of drug activity, and of the people involved, he said, â€œThere are Somalis, Hispanics, blacks and whites â€” it doesnâ€™t matter. The degree of organization depends more on individuals than groups.â€
The back roads that crisscross the borders of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are a great help to the transporters, allowing them to stay off major roads like Route 44. â€œThe routes vary,â€ said Bailey. â€œAnd donâ€™t forget, Hartford is close too.â€
Bailey said officers from the regionâ€™s police forces often meet informally to share information, and that the multiple jurisdictions â€œactually make it easierâ€ to build cases. â€œWe get more intelligence to work with.â€
So why is it that heroin and other opiate use seems to be on the rise? Bailey said it is partially the result of an increased willingness on the part of young people to experiment with drugs.
â€œItâ€™s not so much that there are more drugs, but there is more demand,â€ he said. And both he and Crowell said that for many teens the cycle begins when they get hold of opiate pain medication, from their own homes or from a friendâ€™s. Older teens and young adults â€œknow to be looking for that, and they think itâ€™s safe because itâ€™s a prescription drug.â€
But itâ€™s a short jump from abusing prescription opiates to the illegal kind.
â€œLook at the economics of it,â€ said Crowell, pointing out that an 80 milligram OxyContin pill costs between $60 and $80 on the street, whereas a bag of heroin (between 1/8 and 1/4 of a gram, a figure that varies considerably) is $5 to $10 and delivers a comparable high.
And street heroinâ€™s purity ranges wildly. â€œWeâ€™ve seen 10 to 77 to even 90 percent purity,â€ said Crowell. â€œAnd of course the more pure it is, the more dangerous.
â€œSay todayâ€™s the day you decide to switch from OxyContin to heroin and you get some really good stuff. Youâ€™re not real sure how much to do, or even what it is. This is where a lot of overdoses occur.â€
Bailey said he and his colleagues have noted a â€œhugeâ€ increase in heroin use, and also points to the prescription pills as a major component of the problem.
â€œLately weâ€™ve caught a lot of kids burgling homes for pills. This is typical.â€
Is law enforcement losing the battle?
No, the two men agree. But they are quick to add that cops can only do so much. â€œParents â€” look at who your kids are hanging around with, note changes in personality. Is your child half-asleep all the time?â€ said Bailey.
â€œAnd the pills. If you have them in your home, lock them up. If youâ€™re done with them, destroy them.â€
Bailey would like to see separate penalties for transporters, such as forfeiture of vehicles. â€œSomeone makes a decision to bring it in. In 30 years of being a police officer in New York State I have never seen a poppy plant, never seen a coca plant growing here.â€
â€œWhat they are bringing to your neighborhood is misery and death.
â€œIâ€™m an optimist,â€ said Crowell. â€œI wouldnâ€™t be a drug agent otherwise. And weâ€™ve had a lot of success against cocaine traffickers.
â€œBut education is crucial. We canâ€™t arrest our way out of this.â€
Note: Several attempts were made over a five-week period to interview someone from the Connecticut State Policeâ€™s Narcotics Task Force for this story. None of The Journalâ€™s inquiries, over the course of several weeks, were answered.
To read the first article in this series, which was published in the April 23 Lakeville Journal, visit the paperâ€™s Web site at tcextra.com.