Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Overdoses? What Overdoses?

A few days ago, a press conference was held in which the first-year district attorney announced the arrests of seven people, which he claims shut down a major heroin distribution ring. I doubt that the takedown will make a lot of difference, considering how much demand there is in this area and how much money there is to be made, but I suppose that's what district attorneys are supposed to do, and on balance, this DA has been a lot better than we had any right to expect regarding the opiate epidemic in this area.
What was disturbing about the press conference was the follow-up question period. As is regular at this sort of happening, everyone of any consequence was present--the Sheriff, the Mayor of Binghamton, and our esteemed  County Executive. And ten minutes into the conference, someone asked Little Debbie about the recent spike in heroin overdoses deaths. She denied that there is one, saying that people who die from overdoses don't always die because the opiate overdose in their body (yes, she really did) and resorting to the hoary excuse "We don't have all the information yet" and "there's a lag in statistics, etc."
Well, guess who's in the middle of a reelection campaign? Her main focus five years ago, when getting elected, was that things were shit in Broome County and she was going to be able to fix things. Aside from gutting programs and making essential services harder to get, she has done nothing helpful in her five years in office, and the huge rise in heroin use and addiction has completely flummoxed her and her staff. They have the worst prejudices about addiction and addicts that self-righteous Republican America has to offer--it's all the blah people from New York's doing; what we need is more cops and a bigger jail; what we need is to (essentially) just say no; it really is blah's people's fault; the only treatment that works is incarceration; if we lock enough dealers up, it'll go away; it's BLAH PEOPLE selling it and using it. Even the DA, who is about as Republican as it gets, recognized that the current approach was not working, and implemented a program that, although flawed, is a hell of a lot better than trying to jail the way out of the problem. Even the state parole department does not automatically violate for drug use anymore, but recognizes that some sort of treatment might be more effective. But not our county government; there is no problem, except for isolated instances of incorrigible miscreants that refuse to stop and, by implication, deserve what happens to them, which may or may not be the result of their opiate use.
Well, stammer and disseminate as the county administration might, the truth is overwhelmingly clear to everyone else; there is a major, major problem in this area, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of overdoses and deaths resulting from overdose in the last few months. There is a particular product flooding the area which is much more powerful than the usual heroin found in the area, and it's killing people. And the total number of deaths would have been much higher if not for the availability of Narcan, for the reluctance of many now to use heroin by themselves, and by sheer dumb luck; I can think of at least ten people that have overdosed and been brought back in the last few months, including two that I personally had a role in reviving (I was called by frantic friends in both instances asking me to come help with the revival process, and fortunately I was able to arrive in time to be helpful with both). A sister of someone I know just died yesterday of an overdose.
The problem is real. And denying it is happening is negligence of the first degree, especially if you are a public official who is actually in a position to be helpful, if they so desire.
But it has been apparent for years that our County Executive does not desire. One is tempted to say she is an awful human being; she certainly lacks compassion, acts as if her prejudices are truths, even when a tsumami of evidence screams otherwise; and she has a dangerous faith in discredited ideology that the Reagan and Bush administrations ought to have to laid to rest. But the most galling aspect of the heroin crisis is that she is displaying the classic symptoms of addict behavior herself. One of the ways that addicts justify their continued use is by pointing at others addicts and saying, "I'm not as bad as they are" and gleefully pointing out those addicts' shortcomings. It has been a more or less open secret for a few years now that the county executive is a serious alcoholic. I have been told by several people who have regular access to county government circles that she is drunk to the point of insensibility anywhere from 25 to 50% of the time, including in the office; that her public appearances have to be carefully stage-managed to mask her condition; and that almost all contact with the media has to be carefully controlled. What happened the other day is precisely the sort of thing that her handlers look to avoid--she was not supposed to have a prominent role at the press conference, and she certainly was not supposed to give free rein to her thoughts off-the-cuff, not so much for the mindset she displays (which plays well with every area of the county other than Binghamton) but for the fact that her "explanation" was patently and provably false, which even our docile local media has picked up on.
She is the candidate of what wealth there is left in this area, and she panders to the prejudices of the eight school districts in this area that are not Binghamton and Town of Union, and so it is unfortunately somewhat likely that she is going to be reelected. But she is a total disaster in office, and she will end up killing what slim chances Broome County as of pulling out of the terminal tailspin it is in if giving four more years to destroy it. The other party's candidate is a decent man, someone whom I don't necessarily agree with on everything but who has a much clearer idea of what the true nature of the problems are around here and is willing to tackle them. In this area, though, these are the kind of candidates that almost always lose. I've grown used to it, and it's one reason why I do not grudge anyone who flees here as soon as they are able to .
But it's extremely galling to see the area I've spent most of my life in being piloted down the drain by someone whose judgment, such as it is, is impaired pretty much all the time. And no one seems to give a shit, or even acknowledge it. Politics isn't broken merely on a national or state level; it's pretty messed up and unresponsive on a local level, too.

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