(After the news concerning Jon Bon Jovi's daughter heroin situation I thought I would re-release this article. It is meant to wake people up from the "not my child, not our schools" frame of mind)
There has been much discussion in recent times about high taxes, disappointing real estate growth, and high unemployment. There is no denying that these are real issue which rightfully deserve our attention. Unfortunately, our concentration on these pressing issues may have allowed the growing heroin epidemic, that is plaguing our young people in Suffolk County, to slip under the radar screen for far too long.
Just last year, while doing some research for another article, I stumbled across the eye-opening story of a bright 11th grade girl from East Hampton, who expressed her disgust that heroin was openly in use at a party she recently attended.
Although in the past few years there have been some arrests in the town of Southampton directly related to heroin trafficking, when I reached the East Hampton and Southampton Town supervisors on this issue a few years ago, I basically got a “no comment,” response. I found this particularly disturbing, since in the past, they have always given me pages of great quotes for town articles.
However, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele was very forthcoming when asked about the growth of the trafficking and use of heroin on the east end, particularly among our teens. He said, "I think...not just on the East End...but across Long Island...and apparently for awhile now... based upon what I’m told.... (heroin usage is up among teens) for a few reasons...(1) it’s cheap...even compared to cigarettes these days...(2) there seems to be a generational amnesia about this drug...with all the focus on educating kids about other drugs....heroin has been in the background as far as prevention...(3) it seems kids are snorting and not shooting the drug...which apparently has taken some of the stigma away from heroin as the drug of the hard-core addict. It’s a real problem...the focus needs to be on treatment and education more than criminal penalties.”
I also spoke with Jennifer Maertz, a Long Island attorney, and the former candidate for the New York State Senate seat that encompasses most of the East End. Ms Maertz is a concerned advocate in this field and said, “Long Island children are becoming casualties of our economic circumstances on so many levels,whether it's a fear of further real estate depreciation or financial cuts to our state police efforts to curb drug trafficking. We can not address this crisis while ignoring its realities. This needs to start with our local state representatives confronting this crisis head on. The first step is admitting you have a problem!”
The way the town of Southampton is addressing the problem (I believe unsuccessfully) was explained by Southampton Councilman Chris Nuzzi. He released this statement for the original article I wrote on this issue saying, “Substance abuse in our community is an unfortunate reality that the Town continues to address in several ways through education, programming, and enforcement. The Town’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program continues to work with local elementary schools to educate children about the dangers of drug and alcohol and provides them with the skills to resist peer pressure and avoid involvement with gangs and violence. Our Youth Bureau is able to develop programming based on results from their Teen Assessment Program (TAP) Report, which surveys middle and high school students in our community to identify risk factors, what types of substances are being used and the frequency in which they are being taken.Our Police Department has a Street Crimes Unit whose primary function is narcotics investigation and targeting those selling drugs in the community. They also offer a Citizens Police Academy where parents and other members of the public can learn to identify different drugs, how they are packaged, and how they are used. For those who find themselves in trouble with the law due to drug related issues, The Town offers a Drug Court rehabilitation program as an alternative to traditional sentencing for non-violent drug offenses. We must continue to build upon these efforts in order to address what we know to be a persistent problem in our community."
Some social workers have been making the point that access is no longer a problem with the drugs sold within close distance of the schools and in the teen's own suburban neighborhoods, eliminating drives into Harlem, as was necessary back in the days of Heroin King Nicky Barnes. Another factor fueling 21st Century heroin use came with the elimination of the need to inject it, since it is now available in a $5 bag of snort-able heroin, which has become the popular choice among today's teens.
An east end social worker,who wishes to remain anonymous said, “Parents may not immediately notice that their children are using. At first, their teens seem docile and compliant, making usage hard to detect. Then the drug and its addicting qualities take over. Family jewelry and money start disappearing. Later,the need for additional cash leads to other crimes as well.” Drug dealing, home invasions,purse snatching,and as Ms. Maertz pointed out to me, heroin use even accounts for the recent rise in bank robberies committed by teens. And one mustn't forget that already this year in Suffolk County, a grandfather shot his drug-addicted grandson because the young man was shaking him down for money.
Now, let's get down to some attention getting raw numbers about this problem that were brought to light in two bust within the Town of Southampton in the last year. The first one occurred when the East End Drug Task Force netted 4,430 bags of heroin packaged for street sale, as well as $173,000 in cash. Most alarming was when Suffolk County’s DA, Thomas Spota, announced that he estimated that this drug ring brought 125,000 bags of heroin, worth almost $3 million, into eastern Suffolk County in a year's time. It's shocking to think that a minimum of 125,000 bags of heroin was consumed by Suffolk County residents, including school children. When another bust occurred, DA Spota, claimed the arrested ring was bringing in 15,000 bags of heroin per week. That comes to 180,000 bags a year, up from his previous 125,000 bags of heroin yearly figure that was stated less than two years ago. That’s an astounding 3,265 known bags of heroin being used in Suffolk County a week. Cheaper than Pot, cheaper than cigarettes, cheaper than beer, with no ID card needed, a new lost generation of children are doomed to the abyss of a drugged-addicted existence.
Growing up in the mid to late 1960s, I can remember that not a month went by without a local school losing a student to heroin. The memory of those sad days was stirred last week, when a grieving mother called my home to tell about the death of her 18 year old son son and his best friend -- both due to overdoses of heroin.
Silent no more — the time has come to take our collected heads out of the sand, face this very real and ever-growing national epidemic, and save our children.