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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.

This is the first of three stories about the presentation.


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ITHACA, N.Y. — “I think one of the biggest issues that we (police) have is that our crime is driven by addiction,” said Kevin McKenna, who has been a narcotics investigator for the Ithaca Police Department for six years.

He said most of the crimes in the city — burglaries, robberies, break-ins — are caused by people trying to feed their drug addiction.

The increased availability of the drug over the past two years, McKenna said, is only making crime and overdosing worse.

He said dealers are selling heroin as a bulk product more frequently, as opposed to in individual doses.

The bulk sales are causing two primary things to happen:

1 — The users, especially inexperienced ones, increase their chance of overdosing and dying.

2 — The dealer can dilute the dosage more easily with dangerous combinations, such as the sedative fentanyl.

Despite the dangers, McKenna said he deals with the results of heroin addiction every day.

“You see the people at their worst when they’re addicted to heroin,” he said.

For instance, his first drug case involved a stolen, priceless Native American rug. People living at a home were selling artifacts to fund their heroin use.

He said he chased leads down all the way to Philadelphia, but was never able to find the rug.

And McKenna said he sees no end in sight to the heroin use.

“With my cases, most of the people I arrest are back out on the street before the ink is dry,” he said.

Last fall, the Ithaca Police Department responded to three overdoses in four days. Two of the people died.

The Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services said in a report that from 2007 to 2012 the number of people who checked into the facility with heroin or opiates addiction skyrocketed 35 percent, from 13.4 percent to 48.1 percent.

A survey conducted last fall at Tompkins County high schools and middle schools, grades 7 to 12, showed that 0.7 percent admitted to using heroin once in the past 30 days, according to the Community Coalition for Healthy Youth.

The majority of people he arrests are repeat offenders and addicts. They’re so recognizable to him, he says, he’s able to tail them directly back to major dealers.

But even when those dealers are arrested, another one steps in and takes on the role.

“Heroin is probably the worst drug we have on the street in Ithaca,” he said.

Contact Jolene Almendarez anytime: 907-854-3248 | Email | Twitter | Facebook

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.