Opioid epidemic sees no social class barriers

February 08, 2018 06:44 PM

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die every day due to an opioids overdose. That's 90 deaths per day.

We've heard talk for years that there's an opioid epidemic -- one that's getting worse instead of better. However, many of us continue to tune it out, convinced it's not in our community, schools, or family. It's the same thing many opioid addicts once thought.


If you think the opioids epidemic is just plaguing dirty little corners of poor communities, or that what some drug addict does to himself doesn't affect you, you need to stop living under a rock.

"This is everywhere now. This is in middle class, upper class, it's in suburban neighborhoods, it's in rural neighborhoods," explained Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

"It's a major problem and I'm telling the residents of Saratoga County we do have a problem," echoed Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo.

Opioids are driving up crime rates, straining law enforcement and medical resources, and taking lives.

"I was stealing to support my drug addiction," explained 25-year-old Asia Saglimbeni of Rotterdam.

She is doing time at Albany County Jail. This young woman -- seemingly sweet and genuine in her prison jumpsuit -- had plans to be a nurse until drugs took over her life -- which she hopes to get back.

Saglimbeni's addiction started in high school when she and a friend were introduced to heroin. They used it every day.

"Oh my gosh, it's so easy. It's easier to find heroin on the streets than it is to find pot," pointed out Saglimbeni.

That kind of easy access is also a problem at Shaker High in Latham -- one that's getting worse.

We've had students overdose and we've had students that were barely conscious and had to be taken to the emergency room by ambulance -- and that's happened more than once," noted Stephen Hollock, a student assistance counselor at Shaker High School.

He says on a daily basis, kids are walking the halls with drugs in their pockets.

"These drugs are coming from drug dealers. Drug dealers are getting large quantities of these drugs –- which are legal prescription drugs, but they're selling them just like they sell heroin and marijuana," noted Hollock.

"Our youngsters are still experimenting. They're still thinking they're invincible -- that nothing is going to happen to them," pointed out Jennifer Vitkus of the Addiction Care Center of Albany.

She says some users as young as 8 or 9 years old are getting opiates from mom and dad's medicine cabinet or just misusing their own prescriptions for pain relief from sports or other injuries. Such prescriptions often serve as a gentle introduction to addiction. Wanting that high turns into needing that high and a willingness to do anything to get it.

"It really is. Our larcenies are up, burglaries are up. They're looking for money or looking for things that they can go and pawn off to get the money to buy the drugs," pointed out Zurlo.

"We would initially say that probably 20 percent of our 650 inmates –- give or take -- are in here for drugs. There's probably another 20 to 30 percent that are in here for indirect drug charges -- which means you got caught roaming through a parking lot looking to steal a GPS off a dashboard, a smash and grab, something to that effect to feed your habit," explained Apple.

Sheriff's Zurlo and Apple agree -- prison is not the answer here. There needs to be a more holistic approach to addressing the epidemic. It needs to be one that treats the social, physical and emotional aspects and will help people like Saglimbeni break the cycle of addiction.

"I don't want to go back to the way I was before," she asserted.


Benita Zahn and Jerry Gretzinger

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