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Orange County District Attorney

Combating the Heroin Epidemic

Basic Facts About Heroin and Heroin Addiction

  • Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the opium poppy.
  • Heroin characteristically appears in one of three forms: a white or brown powder; or a black sticky substance, commonly called “black tar heroin.”
  • Heroin can be introduced into the body in several ways: injecting it; inhaling it by snorting or sniffing; or smoking it. Through those methods, the bloodstream quickly delivers the drug to the brain.
  • Heroin addiction is a dependence on the drug, rendering the addict incapable of controlling his or her drug use and, perhaps, inducing the addict to continue using the drug despite the damage it might cause to the addict. Heroin addiction can cause an addict to experience intense cravings for the drug, making it difficult or impossible for the addict to quit using it without help.

Some Long-Term Effects of Heroin and Opioid Use and Addiction

  • Tolerance – more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect
  • Dependence – the need to continue using the drug to avoid symptoms of withdrawal
  • Problems with relationships, employment, and the law
  • Serious health conditions, including:
    • Death by overdose
    • Infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis
    • Liver and kidney disease
    • Collapsed veins
    • Infections in the heart lining and valves
    • Permanent damage to other organs
    • Mental health problems

Warning Signs of Heroin Use and Addiction

  • Substance abuse disorder is progressive, and may start with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, until the user loses control of the use of substances
  • Heroin addiction often starts with the abuse of prescription pain killers

Physical Signs of Heroin Use and Addiction

  • Small pupils
  • Decreased respiratory rate
  • A non-responsive state or drowsiness
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Intense flu-like symptoms, such as nausea; vomiting; sweating; shaking of hands, feet, or head

Behavioral Signs of Heroin Use and Addiction

  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Secretive behavior or isolation
  • Avoiding family contact
  • Changes in friends
  • Stealing
  • Frequenting new places
  • Changes in hobbies, sports, or activities
  • Falling work performance or grades
  • Moodiness, giddiness, nervousness, irritability
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts out of season

Advanced Warning Signs of Heroin Use and Addiction

  • Medications missing from the home
  • Burned or missing bottle caps or spoons
  • Syringes
  • Small bags with powder residue
  • Missing belts or shoelaces

Orange County Law Enforcement’s Response to the Heroin Epidemic

     Since he took office in 2014, District Attorney Hoovler has advocated a three-part approach to combating the heroin epidemic: Education, the Empowerment to Seek Treatment, and Enforcement. He believes that public officials should use their authority to educate people to stay away from drugs in the first place, and to help to provide treatment to those who are addicted. Only as a last resort should government use vigorous law enforcement to address those situations where education and treatment are ineffective and where drug dealers and the drug epidemic are adversely affecting our communities. That three-part strategy has been adopted, first, as a matter of Orange County policy, and, later, as a matter of New York State policy.

     Under District Attorney Hoovler’s leadership, the District Attorney’s Office has been involved with other agencies in a number of programs designed to educate the public about the heroin epidemic, heroin abuse and addiction, and treatment opportunities. Most notably, in June, 2016, District Attorney Hoovler sponsored a program entitled Heroin: A Public Forum on Education, Treatment, and Law Enforcement. The forum included a number of presentations from government officials and treatment professionals designed to raise awareness about the heroin epidemic and efforts to stop it. With respect to treatment, the District Attorney’s Office actively seeks to divert appropriate defendants – not including drug sellers – into treatment programs through various mechanisms, including Orange County’s three drug courts.

     With respect to enforcement in those last-resort situations, the District Attorney is part of a countywide Drug Task Force, in cooperation with the Orange County Sheriff and several local police departments. Through the efforts of the Task Force, and other enforcement efforts, as of August, 2016, during District Attorney Hoovler’s tenure in office Orange County conducted nine narcotics enforcement actions, or “sweeps,” designed to take drug dealers off the streets. Those efforts have resulted in the prosecution of 271 defendants charged with selling narcotics and possession of narcotics for purposes of sale, as well as the take-down of several major narcotics distribution conspiracies.

Citizens may anonymously report illegal narcotics activity, or any crime, to the District Attorney’s Crime Tip Line, (845) 291-2106.

Some Strategies to Help a Loved One Who is Addicted to Heroin

     When a person is addicted to heroin, he or she will probably want to stop using, but will not be able to or will not know how to stop. Some possible strategies to use to help a loved one who is addicted:

  • Talk to the person and keep the lines of communication open
  • Let the person know that substance abuse is a medical disorder, and that treatment programs are available, including medication-assisted treatment
  • The FDA has approved some free medications for the treatment of opiate dependence, including: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone
  • New York State offers opioid overdose prevention programs that train people in how to respond when they suspect that someone has overdosed on opioids, including heroin. Those programs include training on the administration of Naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can prevent an opioid or heroin overdose from becoming fatal. In New York State, non-medical personnel may legally administer Naloxone to another individual. For the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program Directory, go to http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/general/resources/oop_directory/index.htm
  • In Orange County, for further information and assistance contact:
    • The Orange County Department of Mental Health at (845) 291-2600
    • The Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County at (845) 294-9000