Judges: Heroin has our attention

“We’re losing a generation.”

Heartbroken over overdoses of heroin and what she’s seeing in drug court in Lycoming County, President Judge Nancy L. Butts said the illegally sold narcotic is claiming too many lives and the region is losing the battle in community awareness.

Butts said she’s willing to start up a drug task force inviting local drug treatment, counselors, parents and others who can contribute to finding solutions.

Next week, she said, a methadone clinic is scheduled to open on Lycoming Creek Road, to provide the lesser potent synthetic alternative to the narcotic to addicts to wean them off dependence of heroin.

Old Lycoming Township Supervisor John Eck told the Sun-Gazette Friday he was aware of the clinic, located in a business plaza, and his municipality would research how it got there.

Butts said the information on the homefront is where the battle is being lost. Just how prolific the problem is was evident in a quick conversation the Sun-Gazette had with a city police officer.

“It’s the land of opportunity” for drug dealers, the officer said.

“I think we’re losing the battle in the community of non-criminal justice people who don’t realize how much drug abuse is affecting them,” Butts said. “We’re winning in some ways, but we’re losing in the area of community awareness,” she said.

Wins are happening in drug court, when she doesn’t see them back in her courtroom, she said.

County Judge Marc F. Lovecchio, who lost a brother to a drug overdose, and Shea Madden, executive director of West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, serving the county and Clinton County, also support the drug task force idea, according to Butts.

Lovecchio said more than half of the cases over which he presides involve heroin use, and the only solution is for the community to come together and address the totality of the issue, including treatment and recidivism.

“I want to put aside hype and rhetoric,” Butts said. “I think we need people in their homes, schools, churches who are not be afraid, but must understand what they are looking at. We’ve got to talk about it with our kids,” said Butts, a mother of an 11-year-old. “It sucks as a parent to scream at kids about this, but it must be done.”

Butts said the use of prescription drugs often can lead to the use of illegal substances.

“The city would be best to continue to treat drug addicts rather than send them to jail for them to get out and only go back to drug use,” said County Public Defender William J. Miele.

Miele said efforts to improve the city housing stock through continued enforcement by codes officers can only help to drive out those who use drugs.

“Dangerous drug use is out of my control,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said Friday. “We are seeing too many deaths of young people and adults to heroin and other dangerous drugs.”

After speaking with police, Campana said the way to win the battle is to cut off supplies.

When overdose deaths occur, Campana said, he wants to see investigative grand juries convened or coroner’s inquests done to find out who is selling heroin.

“I want to cut the head off the snake,” he said.

“With all due respect to the mayor, what he wants to do is an investigation and that’s for the police,” Butts said. “That’s not what the tool of the grand jury is designed for.”

While two types of grand juries exist – indicting and investigating and traditionally, the investigative grand jury is used in drug cases, she said, in most of those, 18 to 23 people are empaneled for months at a time and as a result of those jurors’ recommendations it is determined by the district attorney whether charges should be filed against specific individuals.

A coroner’s inquest would include a forensic pathologist s’ findings and witnesses, and it would be up to the district attorney to determine if specific charges should be filed, Butts said.

“It may look like that is what is needed from television, movies and theater, but that isn’t how it works,” she said.