In a local newspaper column earlier this year, city of Hornell Police Chief Ted Murray expressed his concern over the availability of heroin in the city and how it destroys young lives. In part, he wrote, “For those who purchase hard street drugs, know that it is not just your own health you are placing in peril. The money you spent is fueling a criminal enterprise whose very existence depends on enslaving others (even your children) to a life of hardcore drug usage.”

In a local newspaper column earlier this year, city of Hornell Police Chief Ted Murray expressed his concern over the availability of heroin in the city and how it destroys young lives. In part, he wrote, “For those who purchase hard street drugs, know that it is not just your own health you are placing in peril. The money you spent is fueling a criminal enterprise whose very existence depends on enslaving others (even your children) to a life of hardcore drug usage.”
More recently, it’s been reported that Ithaca city police are seeing a spike in heroin-related arrests. The story included a comment from the treatment director at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services that the number of clients pointing to heroin as their drug of choice rose three-fold in the last five years.
In other words, across the legislative district I represent, from Hornell in the west to Ithaca in the east, law enforcement has put heroin on the short list of ever-growing drug concerns and challenges. Several times over the past year I’ve written, with ever-increasing concern, about the spread of meth-related criminal activity throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. Add heroin to the near weekly reports of another meth-related arrest or lab discovery somewhere in the region, and it’s a potent, powerful threat to public health and safety.
Any number of factors are at work and producing a perfect storm of these drug-related alarms, including:
• It’s long been a common rule of thumb among law enforcement officers and drug treatment professionals that an economic downturn is worrisome – that as the economy slumps and financial pressures mount, drug abuse increases.
• As states, including New York, have moved to clamp down on prescription drug abuse, other substances, like heroin – less costly and widely available – increasingly become a drug of choice.
It’s a vicious cycle. The illicit use of prescription medicines has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing drug problems. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses due to prescription painkillers. The problem is a acute among young adults and teens.
Last year the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted a landmark law called the “Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act,” commonly known as I-STOP, which puts New York at the forefront of addressing the challenge. I strongly supported I-STOP’s enactment. In 2010, over 22 million prescriptions for painkilling drugs were written in New York State – not including refills. That’s a stunning figure in a state where the entire population is less than 20 million.
But the cycle of drug abuse and addiction is so hard to combat. Confront prescription drugs, and law enforcement increasingly report that people arrested for heroin were often first hooked on painkillers.
In response, the Ithaca Police Department is now offering a new narcotics tip line for the public to report narcotics-related activity: 607-330-0000. Murray set up an email address (Tip@cityofhornell.com) “for anyone in the Hornell community who wishes to report any perceived illegal drug activities … If you or a family member is caught up in an addiction, get help!” Same goes for regional sheriff s and other police agencies that continually encourage the public to report suspicious activity in their communities and neighborhoods.
The first and, in so many ways, most important line of defense against illicit drug use and drug trafficking is public awareness, cooperation and education. On this front, regional law enforcement continues to perform outstanding service.
The State Senate this year approved anti-meth measures I sponsored or co-sponsored. But we need to convince the Assembly leadership, which for so long has stood as an immovable roadblock on too many efforts to enact tougher laws, to act. The dangers and downsides associated with any illegal drug cannot ever be taken lightly or dismissed out of hand. Too often the abuse of one drug leads to the abuse of another, more addictive, dangerous and destructive substance. So the word needs to keep going out to:
• Our young people about the dangers of substance abuse, in all its forms.
• To those caught in the terrible spiral of addiction and abuse, that there are ways out and treatment is available.
• To those whose purpose in life is to peddle drugs and profit from it, that we’re not going to tolerate it. Murray expressed it well when he wrote, “Our police department is blessed with talented officers who will aggressively continue to pursue those who possess or sell any dangerous illegal drugs. We recognize, however, that the best enforcement eff orts come through community support and cooperation… For those who bring heroin and other hardcore drugs into our community, know full well, we will seek you out, we will arrest you and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
We need to stay focused on this three-pronged response: Awareness. Education. Enforcement.
It’s a clear-eyed path toward prevention.

State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, represents New York’s 58th Senate District, which includes Steuben, Chemung, Schuyler and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins County.