Last March, Cynthia, a pale blonde 18-year old Woodstock girl was shooting up heroin every hour. Not a lot in each shot, just enough to maintain.
Her parents were going mad with fear and worry, blaming themselves, each other, the culture of Woodstock, the malaise of America, and the failure of the police to stop heroin in Woodstock.
Steve has been in Woodstock pretty much his whole life. Drinking, doing drugs, hanging, partying, in the scene, on the green. Last winter there was heroin around, so he started doing it. After several months it was out of control. He checked himself into rehab, out of state, up in Maine.
Billy left Woodstock for the University of California, Riverside, a top school for video game design, last August. He promptly got himself a medical marijuana prescription — to deal with stress and insomnia. When he came home this spring he expected that it would be easy to score weed, like it had been before he left. Instead, he found his old acquaintances doing heroin.
Cynthia has been self-medicating pretty much since puberty. She started with alcohol. Then tried pretty much every drug out there. “There’s everything here, it’s probably not like that in other towns.” She figured out she liked the pharmaceutical opiates best, and she rattled off some of the brand names, “Oxys, Percocets, Vicodins,” with a sort of nostalgic fondness, like a returned tourist listing the beaches of the Bahamas.
Then, about a year ago, heroin came around. “It was cheaper than pills,” she said.
Police agencies and the DEA confirm heroin has made a comeback. Prices came down to less than half of what they were a few years ago. “A bag in Woodstock is like twenty bucks, if you get a bundle,” ten bags, “it’s a hundred and eight, a hundred and fifty. Even a hundred and forty. If you know the guy real well.” Purity is up, too. The DEA says that a bag on the street used to be about 20 percent and now, in New York City, it’s testing out at an average of 40 percent, somewhat less in seizures from upstate New York.
Clayton Keefe, the new chief of the Woodstock PD, reported finding discarded needles in Andy Lee Field, on Mill Hill Road, and on the patio of Bread Alone. A 15-year old was caught at night near the basketball court with a bag that contained white powder. Unfortunately there was not enough left for testing.
Talk of heroin, fear of heroin, tales of young kids doing heroin, have become common in Woodstock. Protecting our young from its insidious ravages was used as one of the primary reasons for establishing the curfew.
Yet, it appears to be more smoke than fire.
If we were in the midst of a heroin epidemic it should show up in the criminal justice system, from arrests to prosecutions, court room appearances, sentences and probation. But it doesn’t.
Consider the path of a drug offense as it would move through the system.
There are two likely types of arrests. First is the encounter. An officer sees suspicious behavior. A search follows. Drugs are found.
But Woodstock police records show only one street stop heroin arrest in the past six months. Chris Biddle, 58 years old, was pulled over based on a tip. He had 23 decks of heroin and used needles in a coffee can. While Chief Keefe is very concerned about heroin, three regular duty officers who were interviewed said they hadn’t encountered any. Sheriff’s Department Detective Lieutenant Ed Brewster, who was Woodstock Chief of Police more than ten years ago says, “When I was there we found them [discarded needles and the like] all the time.” Though he also points out that it’s now “some younger kids, it used to be older persons.”
If the police have information that requires an investigation that usually goes to the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team. U.R.G.E.N.T. is run out of the Sheriff’s Department. It’s headed by Under-sheriff Frank Faluotico and staffed by officers from the Kingston, Saugerties, Plattekill, Saugerties, and Woodstock police departments, the sheriff, the DA’s office, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
They’ve run three operations in Woodstock in the past six months. Two involved only marijuana, the third was marijuana and a “controlled substance.”
There was also an arrest in Marbletown, on the other side of the reservoir, on July 23, that included a 36 year old Woodstock resident, Tristin Boss, with 371 glassine envelopes of heroin and a large amount of cash.
“There’s always been heroin in Woodstock,” says Under-Sheriff Faluotico. Indeed, the town has had many famous hard drug users living in or near town for fifty years. That scene and that culture lives on.
No recent surge
While it is apparent that drugs are easily available in Woodstock, it’s difficult to carry out investigations and make arrests. According to Faluotico, that older group, though semi-permanent, is small and they know each other. They buy to use and “dealing” is mostly limited to group buys and sharing.
According to an undercover officer, and confirmed by many other observers, Woodstock’s youth community, is “very tight.” They’ve grown up with each other, they figure they’re going to continue knowing each other for years. More significant, though, is that unlike Kingston or Ellenville kids, “they’re more privileged. They have money and connections. They can call mommy, who calls a lawyer. They know they don’t have to turn to get bailed.”
After an arrest, the case goes to the District Attorney’s office.
If it’s just arraignment, or after arraignment it less than a felony, it’s handled by Peter Matera, the long time Assistant District Attorney for Woodstock. He hasn’t seen a bump in heroin cases or of other crimes in which the perpetrator also turns out to be a heroin user.
Those cases go before one of our two town justices.
Frank Engel, whose been on the bench for 18 years, said, “Heroin’s always been here. It ebbs and flows.” Neither he nor Judge Husted have seen any recent surge in heroin or heroin related cases.
Felony crimes and crimes that have to go to the grand jury, go to the Ulster County DA’s office in Kingston. When DA Holley Carnright was asked about heroin in Woodstock he was blank. Drug offenses are usually handled by ADA Kevin Hart, who is attached to URGENT. Even after doing a computer search of upcoming cases, he too drew a blank.
For both humanitarian and financial reasons, Ulster County has had programs for a long time that are alternatives to incarceration. One of those, specifically for narcotics cases, is Drug Court. To get there, the accused has to agree to plead guilty and then is evaluated by a team of ten people, including the judge, the court coordinator, a treatment provider, the ADA, Social Services, and Probation. The program is, in essence, an extra-intense version of probation, with lots of counseling and very close supervision. The defendant does get a record. The incentive, according Vanessa Manzi, the court coordinator, is “a reduced charge, to stay out of prison, and the chance to get clean.”
Drug Court claims a 72 percent success rate. This is an astonishing result for any program in the criminal justice system. The nationwide three year recidivism rate is 67.5 percent.
The Drug Court has not seen any rise in the rate of defendants referred to them for heroin.
The step after conviction is jail time, probation, or some combination of the two. A major feature of probation is always peeing in a cup. And frequently some sort of drug counseling. The Probation Department, like the town justice court, the DA’s office, and the Drug Court, has seen no dramatic rise in heroin use.
Yes, there’s heroin in Woodstock.
More than 90% of the world’s opium and heroin production comes from Afghanistan. An URGENT undercover officer recently arrested an ex-soldier who became an addict there. The soldier told him that heroin use is widespread among the troops and we can expect to see more addicts coming back as we did from Vietnam.
Oddly, the Afghans have almost no U.S. market share. We get our heroin from Mexico and South America. The New York area is one of the main distribution points. Upstate buyers score in Yonkers, Washington Heights, and Paterson, N.J., usually paying around $5 a bag. Woodstockers, who don’t want to make the long trek, then go to dealers in Kingston (say the cops), and Port Ewen (according to the kids). The price in town is somewhere between $15 and $25 a bag.
Marijuana has long been vilified as a gateway drug. Do it, and you move on to the “hard stuff.” But Andy, the California student with a medical marijuana card, says, “The reason Woodstock kids are doing heroin and pills, is because they can’t get good weed. With good weed, you don’t need it.” There’s neither science nor statistics to back up either view.
The real gateway drugs for heroin are the pharmaceuticals, hydrocodone and oxycodone, marketed as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percodan, Percoset, Lortab and too many other brands to mention. Everyone in the system agrees, they’re the real drugs of choice, much more widely abused than heroin.
“Heroin is a fallback drug,” is the way Faluotico describes it. When it became cheap and easy to get, and kids don’t know enough to be scared of it, they start using it.
Police activity deterrent
Cynthia and Steve both came back to Woodstock after rehab with some trepidation. But both of them said that “the scene” had dissolved. “Oh, sure, I could go get heroin right now, with one phone call, if I wanted. But when I just run into people who were doing it before I left, they stopped. A lot of them are using Suboxone.” That’s buprenophrine, an opiod, with naloxone, an opiod antagonist. It’s an alternative to methadone, said to create less dependence, and can be used during detox to bridge the cycle of being sick and “getting well.” It doesn’t produce a good high and taking more of it doesn’t help.
Reviewing the records of the three week period when the research for this story began until now, then looking back another month, Chief Keefe noticed that there had been a decline in the sort of peripheral incidents, finding needles and bags, that aroused concern about heroin use.
Steve said that police activity was part of the reason. “All those arrests in the spring, made people scared.” Cynthia said, “I was getting it from my friends, and then they’d get it from me, back and forth, you know. So if a few people stop, it kinda stops. I mean if you really want it, you can drive down to the city, but it’s not right here.” Several heroin users committed other crimes that took them off the streets and into the system. The landlords of two houses that were widely reputed to be points of heroin sales and of on-site use, one on Deming Street, the other on Garrison, evicted those tenants.
Heroin is part of Woodstock. It’s always been here, it probably always will be. But the mini-wave of young users has receded. The kids who want to get high have returned to pills manufactured by the giants of the pharmaceutical industry, liberally dispensed by doctors, hospitals and psychiatrists, buyable on the net, and available from medicine cabinets everywhere. ++