OSWEGO, NY – We are on the verge of losing the war on drugs unless all agencies pull together, a speaker at the recent county legislature meeting cautioned.
He told about a mother who had lost her son to heroin and didn’t know where to turn for help. The problem went much further, deeper, darker and twisted than he thought possible, Paul R. Stoner II told the legislators.
“There were so many questions and no answers; so many unasked questions and horrific answers found,” he said. “We hear about drugs on the news every day; our loss to the war on drugs. Whether or not to legalize marijuana. We’ve become numb and complacent and above all silent – a killer worse than heroin and illicit drugs.”
Heroin has spiked in recent years to an unprecedented level; reportedly 85 percent of all drug arrests in 2014 were heroin related, he said.
He sought to get “the count” information regarding drug use locally. That information, he said, isn’t protected by HIPPA, as it doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy.
“How many people were treated for heroin use? How many have overdosed. How many have died. Reasonable numbers. Those three simply numbers would have put an arsenal into the hands of our drug task force and our local law enforcement, to prove, ‘yes, we have a problem on our hands.’ Oswego Health, nor Oswego County Health, Oswego County behavioral facilities and other institutions like Farnham and Harbor Lights would not give a count,” he said.
He conducted his own online survey.
In a few weeks he received 168 responses.
Of those 168, 143 knew someone that had been affected by prescription or illicit drug use. Of those 143 respondents, 77 percent said they were affected by heroin. Eighty percent of them either couldn’t find effective treatment, rehabilitation or did not do so.
And 100 percent that sought treatment at one of the aforementioned facilities rated them all as ineffective, somewhat ineffective and only 24 percent rated our facilities as OK, he said.
“Our health care system in Oswego County currently has no real way to fight drug addiction. A judge gives them a choice; they can go to jail, be accepted into a program, or go to a facility like Harbor Lights or Farnham,” he said.
He claimed that by not releasing the information he requested, local health care facilities are crippling the efforts of law enforcement.
“Why do we not have an effective drug rehabilitation program in this county? Why are our teens and young adults getting these illicit substances and killing themselves? How many more have to become addicts, overdose or even die before anyone publicly recognizes this as a problem?” he said. “Truth be told, if you want to know the guilty party – look into a mirror. It is all of our faults for ignoring it for so long. We need to start with parents, kids and educators. Education and awareness of the warning signs and symptoms are the key to the beginning of the end of this war.”
He wants to help design and implement a plan to cut off the flow of illicit drugs and treat those afflicted by this outbreak in Oswego County. He encourages those affected by drugs to come forward and speak out and “do not suffer in silence, fear and shame.”
“I will not sugar-coat this for you. If you do not act now as one body, one community – we will lose. The road ahead will be long and difficult. There will be setbacks, but we will overcome. The problem will get worse before it gets better. In the end, we will prevail. We will stop this menace (heroin) and then other illicit drugs. I will not rest until we reach our true goal together of a drug free Oswego County.”
However, one woman believes that while the war on drugs might not yet be won – it is headed in the right direction.
Teresa Woolson is the president of the Victor Orlando Woolson Foundation, Inc. The organization, named in memory of her son who lost his life to a synthetic drug, is leading the charge against designer drugs in Oswego County.
The VOW Foundation worked with Oswego County Legislators to get a ban on synthetic drugs in 2012.
“We have also worked with Assemblyman (Will) Barclay in Albany to try to get a state law passed, which we’re still working on. The VOW Foundation just received its 501(c)3 status late last year and with an all-volunteer board, has been making an impact in getting the information to the community about synthetics and other drugs,” she said.
VOW hosted the first Oswego County Substance Awareness Family Education Fair last August and the second annual event is being planned for April 26 in Oswego.
“As VOW president, I am a very active member of the new Coalition to Combat Adolescent Substance Abuse in Oswego County. The co-chair, Penny Morley, and I just returned from Washington DC from a week-long conference by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) for education in how to build stronger coalitions to work toward drug free communities,” she told Oswego County Today. “We also received instruction on preparing a grant application that, if funded, will allow for $125,000 per year for up to five years for our coalition and this very cause – A Drug Free Community.”
The coalition is comprised of many different sector representatives in the community and is always seeking new members.
“The mission of the Coalition to Combat Adolescent Substance Abuse in Oswego County is to increase developmental protective factors and decrease risk factors as we address adolescence substance abuse in Oswego County,” Morley said.
For more information, contact Morley at [email protected]
Even without funding, the coalition is taking action along with the VOW Foundation and other agencies in the county to educate youth and families to the dangers of synthetics and other drugs, she pointed out.
“There is a huge gap in the understanding about drugs from the physicians to the people that are addicted and a lot of folks in between,” she said. “The leaders in this arena are working very hard to make a difference. As the president of the VOW Foundation, I also work a full-time job, but know that we are making a difference and that it is worth all the time and effort. Seeking sponsorships, grants, donations and funding is a new arena for me and I’m making great connections and progress. It takes the whole community to make a difference.”
In recent meetings with Congressman John Katko in Syracuse and Washington, he has assured her that the heroin crisis is a major concern and will be looking into ways to help, she added.
As of January of 2015, the newly reformed county Drug Task Force came to be. The Oswego City Police Department’s Anti-Crime Team rolled over into the DTF, according to OPD Captain Charles Tonkin, DTF coordinator.
“We currently have six investigators, from various police agencies within the county, assigned full-time with two more set to be assigned within the next two weeks for a total of eight,” he said.
A strong possibility exists that at least one further investigator and possibly upwards of three, will be assigned sometime in the near future.
“This is in response to the administrators of the major law enforcement entities within the county seeing a need and committing to combat the drug problem within this county, with a strong emphasis on the heroin and methamphetamine problem,” he said.
Following are a glimpse at OPD’s Anti-Crime Team’s numbers for 2013 and 2014 as well as the county DTF numbers through Feb. 19.
None of these account for arrests made by patrol units, only arrests by investigators dedicated solely to narcotics enforcement.
2013 Anti-Crime Team Numbers
136 Total Defendants Arrested
11 Meth Defendants
9 Heroin Defendants
2014 Anti-Crime Team Numbers
90 Total Defendants Arrested
5 Meth Defendants
12 Heroin Defendants
2015 DTF Numbers (as of 2/19)
33 Total Defendants
13 Heroin Defendants
5 Meth Defendants