Ithaca, N.Y. — Two major factors are being blamed for exacerbating the heroin crisis gripping upstate New York communities, and leading — at least in part — to a spate of Ithaca area overdoses this week.

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They are, according to CEO of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services William Rusen:

1 — A cheap, plentiful supply of heroin

The reasons are complicated and varied, but — Rusen said in an interview Wednesday — the effect is not in doubt: There is more heroin flooding local streets, and that’s increasing the supply relative to the demand.

The basic laws of economics hold.

“You have the price of heroin dropping precipitously,” Rusen said. “It’s plentiful and it’s cheap.”

The Ithaca Journal recently reported that a dose of heroin sells for about $10 on the street.

2 — The prescription drug crackdown

A 2013 program in NY called I-STOP has effectively cut down in the use of prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet.

“You’ve pretty much cut off the supply of prescription opiates,” Rusen said of I-STOP, which requires doctors to consult a patient’s medical history before prescribing most painkillers, according to The Huffington Post.

While the program has been lauded for trying to cut off a precursor to heroin use, it’s also turned those facing addiction to the more dramatic alternative, according to Rusen.

What happened?

The Ithaca Police Department is investigating two deaths this week that it says it thinks were caused by heroin overdoses. A third person was hospitalized after an overdose Monday in a business on the 200 block of South Meadow Street.

Officers are looking at the possibility that the three overdoses are related, maybe if local heroin has been laced with a foreign substance like fentanyl.

About the deaths:

1 — Police found a body Saturday outside on the 100 block of Chestnut Street. They believe the person — Travis Vorhis, 23 — was overdosing on heroin at the time of his death.

2 — Another person was found dead in a West State Street apartment at around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“This subject is believed to have overdosed on heroin,” police said in a press release. “An autopsy will be performed and IPD Investigators are awaiting toxicology reports.”

Investigators have ruled out foul play. The second person’s name has not been released.

Do we know why this is happening now?

Rusen, of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, said it’s too early to know if fentanyl or some other laced chemical is causing the uptick in overdoses.

But Rusen noted that a string of overdoses — and heroin-related deaths — is not unlikely amid a general increase in heroin abuse.

“If you put together heat, oxygen and a fuel supply you’re likely to have a fire,” he said, “but when and where the fire starts is subject to lots of factors.”

The uptick in heroin use locally is simply likely to lead to events like this every so often, he said.

“It unusual? Yes. Is it to be expected? Yes, because you have all these factors coming together,” he said.

How much has heroin addiction in Ithaca changed?

On Wednesday, Rusen referred The Voice to a presentation he gave to the NY State Senate last year.

That report detailed the following statistics for Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services:

As you can see, heroin and opiate use among CARS’ patients soared by 35 percent from 2007 to 2012.  More jail time was correlated with this increase.

And a stunning statistic from that report by The Journal’s Andrew Casler:

“From 2008 to 2013, the Southern Tier AIDS Program distributed 45,395 syringes each month on average during 2013; that’s up from 3,231 in 2007.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.