ELIZABETHTOWN — Three area residents were arrested by state police on Tuesday, June 3 on a series of felony drug charges.
Officers pulled over a 2011 Ford Fusion for speeding on State Route 9N in Elizabethtown. After consenting to a K9 search, 55-year-old Ronnie Cunningham of 62 Water Street, Elizabethtown, was nabbed with 15 bags of heroin.
Saranac Lake resident Jeffrey A. LaComb, 29, was found with seven bags of heroin and Daisey M. Chandler, 32, of 5429 Lincoln Pond, was allegedly in possession of 20 bags of heroin, a suboxone strip and what law enforcement officials referred to as “a quantity of amitriptyline hydrochloride pills,” or antidepressants.
Troopers also located and seized $5,600 in U.S. currency and a small quantity of marijuana.
The suspects were arraigned in the Elizabethtown Court and remanded to the Essex County Jail. Cunningham and LaComb were both remanded in lieu of $25,000 cash bail and Chandler was remanded in lieu of $10,000.
In addition to heroin, suboxone, an FDA-approved and regulated semi-synthetic opioid designed to treat heroin addiction, made headlines in Essex County in March when seven of the 19 suspects netted in a sweeping multi-county drug raid were brought in on suboxone-related charges.
Prescriptions for the withdrawal aid have skyrocketed in the past decade, pushing out the previous go-to replacement, methadone.
Suboxone’s use is said to diminish the agonizing flu-like withdrawal symptoms that are common when addicts decide to stop using heroin.
“There’s a huge heroin problem pretty much everywhere in Troop B,” said Chad Niles, a sergeant with the state police, in an interview with the Valley News.
“What we’ve seen is those who have at one time abused prescription drugs are now migrating towards heroin.”
As lawmakers crack down on synthetic prescription drugs, the use of which mushroomed this decade as pharmaceutical companies and pain experts pushed them as a easy solution to pain relief, people are turning to heroin, which authorities say is far cheaper than pharmacutical drugs, which often fetch $40 per pill.
Niles said his agency’s narcotics unit has recently grown bigger to combat the plague.
“We’ve got more investigators who are working overtime on this. It’s literally taking all of their time and resources doing investigations on users and sellers.”
Niles said the heroin trade is “fairly profitable” in the area. Traffickers bring heroin up the Northway from downstate metropolitan areas.
Glassine envelopes that typically sell for $10 in New York City sell for three times as much in the area.
Ultimately for users, said Niles, this results in anywhere from $100 to 150 dollar per day habit.
The high cost results in other crimes, he said, usually larceny or a migration towards selling product to support their addiction.
Elizabethtown residents indicated in discussions with a reporter that narcotics were readily available for purchase within the town.
Niles urged addicts to seek help.
“There are some very successful techniques,” he said. “First, acknowledge that you have a problem and seek out that treatment. We take this very seriously, especially if you have a good track record.”
Doug Terbeek, the Executive Director of the Ticonderoga-based Prevention Team, is part of a recently-formed coalition to address prescription drug abuse and related issues in Essex County.
“This is a symptom of deeper trouble in the community,” he said.
About 16,000 Americans die of overdoses each year.
While the Prevention Team is not a treatment program, said Terbeek, they do make referrals to people for treatment or medical resources that can help them.
“We don’t have a huge walk-in population, but we experience a large amount of phone calls from family members asking about relatives,” he said.
Addicts are steered towards facilities like St. Joseph’s, a chain of addiction treatment and recovery centers based in Essex and Franklin Counties, and private medical centers.
Last week, the New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction released a report that summarized its findings and proposed more than two dozen bills to address the growing crisis of heroin and opioid addiction, according to Senator Betty Little, a member of the task force.
“Heroin and opioid addiction will continue to worsen absent a comprehensive strategy and adequate funding to combat this growing crisis,” she said in a statement annoucing the report’s findings. “With several weeks remaining in session, we have sufficient time to move forward on this package of bills that will help combat the problem, give hope to addicts and their loved ones, reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars in the long run."
The task force is recommending 25 bills for the state senate to consider. Among them include a bill allowing educational entities to possess and administer naloxone, an FDA-approved drug to treat overdoses, enabling courts to order assissted outpatient treatment for addicts who pose threats to themselves or others, and, perhaps most significantly, establishing the crime for homicide for the unlawful transportation or sale of an opioid that causes the death of another.
Earlier this year, the state senate, which included $2 million in funding to support substance abuse services, passed a bill sponsored by Senator Hannon to allow authorized health care professionals to increase public access to naloxone.
Tuesday’s arrest comes after a Mineville resident was picked up by state police on Monday on Lincoln Pond Road in Elizabethtown for multiple drug-related charges.
In that incident, Jessica Crane, 34, was found with seven bags of heroin and four hypodermic needles.
Crane, who allegedly gave a false name to officers, was charged with criminal impersonation, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a hypodermic needle and driving while ability impaired by drugs.
She was arraigned at the Elizabethtown Court and remanded to Essex County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash bail or $10,000 bond.
As for the three suspects picked up on Tuesday, the $5,600 in cash has piqued the interest of the authorities and the investigation into their activities is ongoing.
"There's a lot of questions still left to answer," said Jennifer Fleishman, a state police spokesperson. "Their cooperation will be extremely helpful."