Editor’s Note: A panel of three speakers discussed multiple facets of Ithaca’s heroin problem during a Q&A with about 50 people at the Tompkins County Public Library Monday evening.
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In order for a heroin addict to be accepted into long-term care in Tompkins County, he or she has to fail out of lower-level treatment programs, said Jamison Wood, a recovering addict of over five years and representative from the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County.
Though the procedure is meant to provide the most serious care to those who need it most, it also sometimes creates the conditions for people to overdose while they are in the lower-level programs, Wood said.
Wood said this problem has a lot to do with the cost of operating long-term treatment facilities and the willingness or ability of people to pay for treatment.
Insurance companies, Wood said, often don’t help offset costs for treatment because the companies do not consider heroin use to be life-threatening.
However, he said that while consistent heroin abuse doesn’t quickly cause people to die — like alcohol abuse — it only take one bad dose to kill people.
He said the conundrum of the drug’s impact on people means even if insurance companies pay for treatment, it’s often for less than 30 days, which is not enough time for people to kick the habit and be successful.
Eric Tenorio, a heroin addict who has ben sober since December, said another obstacle people face while kicking their addiction is the lack of housing opportunities for people getting back on their feet.
He said if people can’t get a bed at the Rescue Mission or Chartwell House they can end up back in situations where using heroin is easy and acceptable.
Halfway houses, he said, would also help recovering addicts, but there are none in Ithaca.
“There is kind of that attitude of ‘Not in my back yard,’” he said.
Are other drugs the solution?
Both men said they disagree with switching addicts from heroin to another drug, such as Methadone or Suboxone.
The legal drugs are used to wane people off heroin without feeling so sick.
“I would call that liquid handcuffs,” Wood said. “You have to get that dose every single day to not feel sick.”
He said he knows some addicts drive or take a cab to Syracuse every day to get their dose of Methadone, which he said does not address the problem of addiction.
He said that in the 10 years he’s been around recovery, he’s rarely seen the alternate drugs work successfully for people.
“Do I think there is a small percentage of people it’s good for? Absolutely,” he said. But he added that it’s typically not a long-term fix.
Narcotic Investigator Kevin McKenna, of the Ithaca Police Department, said he also disagrees with substituting one drug for another because of the way it’s misused.
“It’s currency on the street. Suboxone costs $25,” he said.
For a list of some heroin treatment centers in Ithaca, visit Heroin.net.