VALATIE–Town Councilwoman Patsy Leader hosted a second meeting on the drug crisis in the community at Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building courtroom last week. The 30 people who attended the September 28 session heard from District Attorney Paul Czajka along with representatives from the county Mental Health Center and the Youth in Recovery program. In the audience were members of the Chatham Pathways to Recovery (CPR) group and educators from Catholic Charities who run programs in the Ichabod Crane School District.
This second meeting was not as well attended as the first one, which Ms. Leader hosted over the summer with state troopers, Twin County Mental Health representatives and county Sheriff David Bartlett.
Mr. Czajka started the meeting last Wednesday by saying that the drug crisis, especially the problem with heroin, “is worse than it’s ever been.” He talked about price of heroin being extremely low right now and called the newer, synthetic opioid drugs “extremely addictive.”
Addressing the practice of putting people in prison for drug crimes, the DA said, “That alone doesn’t work.” Audience members asked him about the sentences for drug dealers and users and he explained that when the state’s strict drug sentencing guidelines known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws were reformed in state that changed the mandatory prison sentences that could be given to drug dealers. “We don’t have the same weapons that we did,” he said of the new laws.
He also told the audience that sometimes dealers are “their own best costumers” and that the dealers often need help getting off of drugs. When asked if the police would arrest someone found with drug paraphernalia in the person’s car, Mr. Czajka said that possession of hypodermic needles or drug residue is a misdemeanor offence.
“It’s not a crime to be an addict,” Mr. Czajka said, adding that if some overdoes on opioids the police are not going to arrest that person but will instead try to help the person. He also said that there is a state law that protects a person who calls the police for help if the person is overdosing.
Asked about Chatham Cares 4U, a program started by Village of Chatham Police Chief Paul Volkmann that allows people with addiction issues to come to the Chatham Police Station in the Tracy Memorial Village Hall on Main Street and, no questions asked, the Chatham police will find a treatment center for that person and take the person there.
A member of the CPR (Chatham Pathways to Recovery) said that 23 people have been helped by the Chatham Cares 4U since it opened early in the summer. Mr. Czajka said that Chief Volkmann had not reached out to him about the program. He did stress that if someone comes into the police station with illegal drugs on them that Mr. Czajka, as DA, is the person who decides whether that person will be criminally charged. But he did say that if Chief Volkmann can help people get into treatment, he supports that. He also talked about the county’s Drug Court, run by County Court Judge Jonathan Nichols.
The DA said his office works closely with the county sheriff but he urged people to notify the police if they have concerns. “We do need your help and we need your help by keeping your eyes open,” he told the group.
Deputy Sheriff Jason Garvey who is assigned to Kinderhook, and covers Stuyvesant and Ghent as well, was also at the meeting. Like Mr. Czajka, the deputy said the heroin issue was happening everywhere and that information from the public would be helpful. He talked about parents not knowing what was going on with their addicted children.
Deputy Garvey gave out the tip line for sheriff’s office, at 518 822-8477, and said that his official cell phone is 518 320-6512. He also stressed that people should call 911 for emergency situations. “I’ll take any tips,” he told the audience.
The deputy said that he had trained as a drug recognition expert (DRE) to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs. He is the only deputy sheriff with that training, he said.
Dan Almasi, from the Columbia County Department of Human Services and the county’s Mental Health Center, talked about help that his department officers. Monday through Thursday the department is offering the Open Access program from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for screening adults looking for help with a variety mental health issues. Mr. Almasi said that a licensed professional from the department will screen a person coming in and continuing counseling that person if needed. People looking for help can go to the Mental Health Center for Open Access at 325 Columbia Street in Hudson. They can also call 518 828-9446.
Mr. Almasi also said at the meeting and in phone interview afterward that the county Mental Health Center is working with Twin County Recovery Center. He said that they now have a counselor one day a week at Twin County, which is located at 350 Power Avenue in Hudson. There is also a satellite county Mental Health office in Valatie, at the Valatie Medical Arts building on River Street.
There was more talk about getting treatment for people in the county. Mr. Czajka agreed that treatment options need to be easier. A CPR member talked about NAR-ANON meetings, for relatives and friends of addicts, in Chatham and Albany. The Ichabod Crane School District is holding a drug awareness event on October 13 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the High School. CPR also hosts open meetings at the Chatham High School Library. The next CPR meeting is October 18.
“We could maybe talk with Chatham, do a joint committee,” said Councilwoman Leader about having a countywide group.
“We have to get the word out,” she said.