A problem in my backyard


By Ryan Kenna

The drug heroin is “a highly addictive morphine derivative that makes up a large portion of the illicit traffic in narcotics,” as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Heroin is made by treating morphine with acetic anhydride … and the resulting substance is four to eight times as potent as morphine.”

Myself, along with the rest of my small hometown of Cold Spring, N.Y., would preferably give the drug a name that was simpler and more deserved: monster.

Last winter break, I was enjoying the long hiatus from academic life.

Having spent most of my previous summer working full-time, I decided against employment that break, ensuring that I would have a little more leisure time before entering the dreaded “real world.”

Things at the time seemed simple: I was an average student at an above-average private institution, my family could support the financial burden of an uncertain future and I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to afford books the following term or about affording the handful of gifts I would give my family on Christmas.

It was Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, when I read something I hadn’t expected.

I casually checked my Facebook page after waking up to learn that a friend of mine, who will remain nameless out of respect for his family, had overdosed on heroin the previous night and had not survived long enough to receive medical attention. It was the first time I had ever cried in front of my computer screen.

I was in shock. After sending out a handful of texts, the truth became all too clear: He was dead.

To specify, by “friend,” I mean that I wasn’t always with this kid, but we had a mutual respect for one another.

I’d shared many occasions with him and found that he was clearly unique, someone who shared my values, someone who I’d have no problem calling my friend in front of my parents.

The incident that occurred the week before Christmas was just another statistic for any police department in the Hudson Valley.

Cold Spring is a hamlet located in Putnam County right across the Hudson River from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Hundreds of thousands of commuters from the area go to and from the city daily, allowing for one of the most prolific drug trafficking systems in the country.

Trips to and from “the Heights” (Washington Heights in Manhattan) amongst some of my peers were casual by my freshman year of college and relationships I had forged for longer than a decade were deteriorating by the “bang.”

I had hoped that going away would allow me to escape, to run away from everyone who served as a possible enabler or posed a threat to my well-being.

It’s hard to imagine that high-school students have access to drugs of this magnitude and that they are able to negotiate and enact transactions with drug dealers from bigger-name cities like Peekskill, Poughkeepsie or White Plains.

I know other people from high school, people I was great friends with, even, who are current heroin users.

These are people I’ve watched fall into a misery of addiction and destruction over the past four years while I’ve been making new friends and garnering new experiences.

When I go back home during breaks, I hear rumors. I know people who are still associated with some “grander scheme,” and the truth is, heroin is easier to get now than it ever has been.

Let’s paint a quick picture for those of you who’ve never engaged in any serious “illicit” activity.

A “stamp,” or a hit of heroin, only costs $10. Let that sink in for a second.

It’s cheaper for you to buy heroin than say, a twelve-pack of Bud Light, a handle of Crystal Palace or even a pack of Marlboros.

It’s interesting because I find that at Union, while the use controlled substances exists, heroin is something that I have never heard any mention of in my four years here.

Yet, while I’m home an hour outside of New York City, you can’t go a day without finding some news piece regarding a heroin-related death or arrest.

I’m writing this article because, over the last half-decade or so of my life, I’ve had to bear witness to the destruction of the well-being of dozens of people with whom I’ve shared a connection.

This isn’t a confession. This isn’t a cry for attention. This is an illustration.

I can’t go home this summer hearing about how Tom B. crashed his car as he dozed off and drove into a telephone pole or how Cynthia S. mixed prescription pills with alcohol and now my first-grade teacher doesn’t have a daughter anymore.

It isn’t right, and I can’t help but feel there isn’t enough being done.

I’ll conclude with this: No, I don’t think there is a direct solution for this issue, nor do I think the area has seen the worst that is to come.

I only want more people to know, to be more aware.

It’s not just “junkies” or people without any direction; people with real talent, real values and real personality are suffering from addiction every day.

I wish it could’ve been prevented. I wish people didn’t suffer.

If New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling this an epidemic, I sure hope to see some resolutions in the immediate future, because I have yet to see any preventative measures in the areas where they would appear to be most necessary.


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