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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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December 13, 2014

The So-Called Heroin Crisis

Suddenly the politicians and the corporate media notice that suburbanites use opiates

One year ago in December 2013 the local corporate media was aghast and screaming about an incident that happened in Clifton Park, the highest income suburb outside of Albany. Like all too many high income suburbs across the country, the Saratoga County township is a heavily subsidized wasteland of parking lots and sprawl populated mainly with blank, alienated children and distracted adults who ignore their kids as much as possible. That this incident was considered surprising by anyone is really the only surprising thing.

It seems that during school hours at Shenendehowa public high school in Clifton Park, a 17 year old student was accused of helping a 15 year old student use a hypodermic needle to inject heroin. The reports say the kids were seen exchanging pills near the lockers, another kid ratted out the stoners. The 15 year old admitted shooting up, school officials called the State Troopers and arrests of the kids were followed with public hand wringing.

As a result of this incident the local corporate media announced that heroin had “arrived” in the suburbs, like all of a sudden. Total bullcrap. Local suburban kids have been using heroin and prescribed opiates for decades. What makes this certainly nasty and high-profile incident significant was that it caused the sudden collapse of the local corporate media’s careful censorship of reports of widespread heroin use and arrests across the local suburbs of the Capital District.

Shenendehowa Student And Heroin User Daniel Lewis
Shenendehowa Student And Heroin User Daniel Lewis

One of the few local media sources that have been reporting on heroin use in the suburbs over the years is the reliable and decidedly non-corporate Altamont Enterprise, a venerable weekly newspaper that covers the Hilltowns and western suburbs of Albany County. Incidents such as the frequent heroin arrests at the Crossgates Mall parking lot have been consistently reported by the Enterprise, most often in the paper’s police blotter. Yet until recently these same stories, no matter how spectacular, simply did not appear in either the daily newspapers or on the TV or radio.

The very specific purpose of this careful censorship of suburban drug use was to maintain the illusion that heroin sales and use is a problem confined to urban communities such as Albany, Schenectady and Troy. The illusion was mostly successful for a long time, it fed into the widespread suburbanite prejudice against sustainable urban communities and against those of us who live in Cities. The censorship helped reinforce the suburbanite delusion of superiority, they’re clean living people while us urban dwellers are dirty and inferior.

Now, I have nothing against harmless delusions, but these particular delusions have an expensive social impact that falls directly on my shoulders, and upon those of my neighbors. Because these suburbanites have traditionally denied the existence of heroin and prescription opiate use in their municipalities, they don’t have the support services or really any way to deal with their own homegrown drug problem. What these suburbanites do routinely is to dump their heroin and alcohol addicts on the Cities, all too often on the South End of Albany where I live.

Adam Rappaport, His Mother’s Favorite Photo and His Mug Shot
Adam Rappaport, His Mother’s Favorite Photo and His Mug Shot

Last month the Altamont Enterprise told the tragic backstory of 22 year old Adam Rappaport, who hung himself to death in Albany County Jail in October. A lifelong resident of Guilderland (a suburb in western Albany County) Mr. Rappaport became addicted to opiates while still in his teens. After he was hospitalized because of a snowboarding accident at 16 he was given basically an unlimited supply of prescription oxycodone to take home, a familiar story.

These opiate prescriptions, which doctors and medical centers hand out like door prizes these days, is probably the number one reason why heroin has become increasingly popular with younger people and become “a crisis.” It appears to be very easy to receive opiate prescriptions and to become addicted. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of these legal opiate addicts.

Some people, a minority, really like the way opiates make them feel and keep wanting more, much the way a small but significant part of the population likes the drug alcohol and can’t get enough. Most opiate addicts that I’ve encountered lately appear to be content with the legal pills, either dozing about the house or sleepwalking through their days. But some seem to want a stronger feeling from their downers and gravitate toward stronger opiates like heroin, apparently Mr. Rappaport was one of those people.

Front Door Of The Albany City Mission On South Pearl Street
Front Door Of The Albany City Mission On South Pearl Street

By September of this year Mr. Rappaport’s life situation had disintegrated alarmingly. He could no longer take care of himself properly, and various attempts to detox him had failed and he had become suicidal. At that point his only friend and supporter was his mother, who was trying to help him but was running out of options.

I can only have sympathy for his mother, no parent should ever have to go through such an ordeal. But what she did next, as I read the Enterprise account at my kitchen table, made me want to start flinging dinnerware around the room. I certainly started cursing. So what does a suburban mother do with a son who is a hopeless addict and a burden on society? From the Enterprise:

“He didn’t want to be a burden,” she said. “He had exhausted all of his options for living.” Through tears, she said, “I brought him to the city mission. I didn’t know what else to do... I wanted him to at least have a warm place to sleep and food. They were so welcoming and there was no judgment”... Unfortunately, she said, his detox did not last, and he went back to using heroin, getting high during the day before going to the Capital City Rescue Mission for the night.

Oh thank you very much Mrs. Rappaport. The Capital City Rescue Mission is located down the street from my house in Albany, a 10 minute walk. Lady, you took your heroin addicted son who was ready to do anything for his next bump and dumped him in my neighborhood. So what else should be done with a wrecked human being that no one in the suburbs wants, but to leave him for the citizens of the South End of Albany to deal with.

Albany County Correctional Facility
Albany County Correctional Facility

To underscore the problem here, it seems that Mr. Rappaport tried to break into a couple of houses so as to raise funding for his habit. Fortunately the kid travelled back to Guilderland to attempt the break-ins, as far as is known he didn’t try to rip off anybody in the South End. But he certainly may have done so. It was these two attempted Guilderland break-ins that got him thrown into Albany County where on October 18 he managed to hang himself.

Okay, I suppose I shouldn’t place fault on Mrs. Rappaport for dumping her kid in the South End because the suburban town in which she lives, Guilderland, does not have any support services for their own drug addicts, alcoholics and other undesirable human flotsam. Providing support services is just one of many ways that we taxpayers of Albany subsidize the suburbs, in this case by providing services that suburbanites appear to be incapable of providing for themselves. As such Guilderland cannot be called a complete community, if they can’t take care of their own people then that entire municipality is nothing more than a glorified highway stop.

Meanwhile in Albany we have always been the designated dumping ground for undesirable suburbanites. The South End is particularly oversaturated with addiction centers and halfway houses for criminals. Seriously, you can’t hardly walk an entire block on any main street in the South End without encountering one of these “residences” or “treatment centers.”

Drug And Alcohol Rehab Center In My Neighborhood That Caters To Suburbanites:  They Do Keep The Building In Good Repair
Drug And Alcohol Rehab Center In My Neighborhood That Caters To Suburbanites: They Do Keep The Building In Good Repair

What I hear over and over from the people who work in these treatment centers is how few of the residents come from Albany, let alone the South End. For decades I’ve heard stories of outlying suburban judges and cops who routinely hand homeless people or petty lawbreakers a one way bus ticket to Albany along with directions to the City Mission. The idea among these suburbanite authorities is that the South End is the designated repository for their own designated human garbage.

Some of this importation of drug and alcohol human casualties into Albany has become a thriving business. In my neighborhood there is a privately run rehab center that advertises in the suburbs, “Take the first step to a new life, call now.” Clean yourself up in the South End of Albany and when you are deemed worthy you may return to the suburbs.

Surprisingly, there is very little objection to this state of affairs in the South End itself. We certainly have plenty of hard cases of our own, and I’m proud to say that we take care of our own. But this practice of allowing the dumping of undesirable suburbanites onto our streets, this policy of us assuming burdens which irresponsible suburbanites refuse to bear, is simply accepted. Only a few oddballs like myself object, and we few invariably get labeled as intolerant.

I’m not sure if we allow this dumping of undesirables because my South End neighbors are more generous and have great empathy, or because we don’t have enough pride in our community to stand up and say no. I think that, as in most things, there is a balance that we need to achieve, but why must we take care of everybody else’s hard cases? Perhaps we would do the surrounding suburban municipalities a favor in the long run if we sent their addicts and criminals back home to be taken care of by their own people, to force the suburban governments to learn responsibility.

One Of The Guilderland Houses Adam Rappaport Tried To Burgle
One Of The Guilderland Houses Adam Rappaport Tried To Burgle

The final miserable end of this affair came when young Mr. Rappaport refused to stay put in Albany like he was supposed to and returned to his native Guilderland to commit crimes. His mother considered his return intolerable and turned him in to the police. After his suicide she blamed the police (Albany County Sheriffs) for their characteristic insensitivity and for not properly taking care of him, but really, what could the cops have done to help him at that point. That’s not really their job.

Throughout the whole sad story is a glaring hole, the lack of support services in Guilderland and anywhere in the suburbs. There is only one solution for dealing with the Adam Rappaports of the future, and you know there are plenty of young suburbanites like him out there and there will be plenty more. Guilderland, Clifton Park, Bethlehem, New Scotland and all the rest of the suburban townships have got to develop their own health infrastructures for dealing with addiction.

“Oh but we don’t REALLY have that kind of problem here, we’re not like those dirty people in Albany.” I say bullcrap again. These are your own children that you have raised and neglected, and when your children turn distressingly sour you simply eject them from your municipality. You refuse to take personal responsibility for your own human problems. Apparently you cannot, because irresponsibility is the byproduct of denial, and denial of reality is what suburbanites do best. (Indeed, WNYT TV falsely claimed that Adam Rappaport was “from Albany.”)

Lower Morton Avenue:  No More Drug Market
Lower Morton Avenue: No More Drug Market

There used to be a lot of drug dealers in my neighborhood, I used to watch the Albany Police very deliberately ignore the dealers while they sold their product right out on the street. Until recently one of the biggest open air drug markets in the region was located directly across lower Morton Avenue from the police station, which at that time housed the top brass in the department. Any day I could walk down there and watch the cops come and go from the “Public Safety” building while they were careful to not glance at the dealers. The dealers wouldn’t even bother to look up.

The majority of the clientele for that lower Morton drug market were suburbanites, who would drive cruising around the block looking for a seller. The main drug of choice at that time was crack (thank you Ronnie Reagan) but heroin was plentiful, as were just about any other illegal substances that you can think of. I remember how shocked I was to discover that certain people who lived miles outside of Albany in the toniest suburbs were more familiar with that part of Morton Avenue than I was.

In the middle of the last decade the City government finally became embarrassed by this situation, but the Albany Police still refused to do anything. NY State Troopers were brought in to harass the suburbanite drug buyers cruising around the block, stopping any late model vehicle driven by white people, an interesting reversal of profiling. But the drug market persisted until 2007 when the City purchased the massive apartment building owned and operated by notorious slumlord Roger Ploof. Eagle Court was gutted and rebuilt by Albany Housing Authority, and with that the open drug market pretty much disappeared.

Haven’t Found Discarded Rigs In My Neighborhood For Years
Haven’t Found Discarded Rigs In My Neighborhood For Years

Back in the 1990s there was a house in my neighborhood where heroin was sold to what looked to me like some serious hardcore addicts. Several times a week the addicts would gather and sit on the grass across the street in the park waiting for the product to arrive. The cops would drive by coming to and from the cop station down the hill, I could see the officers inside the cars stare straight ahead ignoring the addicts. Meanwhile every one of the addict’s heads would turn in unison to watch the police cars pass, just like it was a slow motion tennis match. (These same cops would usually give me dirty looks as they passed.)

By the turn of the century I realized with horror that the Albany Police were actively maintaining the illegal drug trade in my neighborhood, in effect protecting the criminals as they committed crimes. I can only speculate whether or not the cops were being paid off, or if this was part of a deliberate policy emanating from City Hall to destroy the South End. But without question my neighborhood had been designated by the City authorities as a societal garbage dump, this was the place the drug dealers were encouraged to operate.

The way I saw it at the time, since at least 95% of the Albany police officers resided in the suburbs, these suburbanites working as Albany cops believed that it was very much in their interest to maintain the drug markets inside Albany so that the dealers would not set up business in their own suburban municipalities. Things have changed greatly for the better with the Albany police since 2010, I’m hearing that the percentage of cops who don’t live in the community is now somewhat lower and official attitudes have changed for much the better. But before 2010 the police and apparently many of our elected officials seriously believed that they could confine regional crime to downtown Albany neighborhoods.

The Citywide Drug Bust In Albany In 2012 Netted Lots Of Illegal Prescription Opiates
The Citywide Drug Bust In Albany In 2012 Netted Lots Of Illegal Prescription Opiates

In 2001 I expressed this thought succinctly at an important public hearing attended by the two top Albany police commanders at the time, John Nielsen and Robert Wolfgang, both of whom stared at me with snarly faces while I spoke. After I’d run my mouth for the allotted five minutes these two corrupt bozos ordered their department to harass me and to harass the people living in my immediate neighborhood. That’s how the Old Boys behaved. But as far as I know these two clowns never lifted a finger to suppress the drug market operating right outside their headquarters.

As for the heroin house in my own immediate neighborhood, I purchased the building in 1999 for a ridiculously low price, the absentee owner wanted to get rid of it. It cost more to make the building habitable enough to rent (by my standards) than it cost to purchase it. But it was worth it, it took four months to evict the heroin dealer, but that’s part of another long, bizarre story.

Of course there are still open air places to purchase illegal drugs in Albany, an example being the bottom of Third Avenue in the South End. But that particular market is decidedly low end and local, I don’t see all that many white suburbanites cruising around the block when I go down that way. A few years back several police agencies conducted a military style incursion and round up of drug dealers around lower Third Avenue, that’s when we learned that almost all of the dealers who operated there lived either way uptown or out in the suburbs.

Bottom Of Third Avenue At Midday: Still A Drug Market But Not Much Of One
Bottom Of Third Avenue At Midday: Still A Drug Market But Not Much Of One

But the suburbanites no longer have to come to Albany to purchase illegal drugs. I keep hearing of a thriving drug trade in Delmar, both from rumors and from an increasing number of busts fleetingly mentioned in the media. Delmar is the second highest income suburb in the Capital District. I hear similar things about Colonie, which has the same percentage of low income people as Albany does, and I’ve been hearing about the widespread use and sale of of illegal drugs in Guilderland for like forever.

The suburban drug busts take place almost exclusively in private houses or during automobile stops by the police. There are no open air markets in these places because there is effectively no public space in the suburbs other than the automobile byways. Thus the fact that we are hearing at all about illegal activities taking place perhaps indicates how widespread is the drug trade in the suburbs.

I’m not personally interested in heroin or downers so I don’t follow prices and availability, why take dangerous drugs just so you can get sleepy and miss life? I’d rather be entertained. But the corporate media keeps telling us that heroin is cheaper and stronger and more available than ever before. They also tell us that heroin has become cheaper than prescription opiates. I suppose that’s true, but I rarely read anything that tries to explain why that is so.

Afghan Poppy Farmer Provides For America
Afghan Poppy Farmer Provides For America

For several reasons worldwide heroin production has exploded. It seems that poppy farming in Afghanistan is at an all time high, this is the net result of the stupid, pointless and failed War Against Afghanistan. America’s Longest War, Obama’s War, is one of the major reasons why decent people failed to go to the polls and vote for Democrats this past November, it is one of the major reasons why the Re-pubs are taking over the Senate and will initiate what may be the final economic decline of our empire.

I’m hearing that because of the wave of marijuana legalization and decriminalization in this country, there’s a gigantic drop in demand for Mexican marijuana and as a result the Mexican criminal drug cartels are collapsing. There are reports that the gangs are encouraging Mexican farmers, who are hurting, to switch from hemp to poppy production to try to make up the shortfall. The demand for Mexican heroin by gringos has always been small compared to demand for pot, but you can be sure that the gangs are doing all they can to meet that demand.

But it’s right here at home in the USA that the demand for opiates is created by the big pharmaceutical corporations, which are churning out opiates and pushing medical practitioners to distribute their product. Much like tobacco corporations used to do with cigarettes back in the middle of the 20th century, Big Pharm gives out opiates with a goal of creating addicts. And as we saw in the case of Adam Rappaport, these addictive pills are freely distributed to underage persons.

Pharmacies Offer Lots Of These Money-Saving Coupons
Pharmacies Offer Lots Of These Money-Saving Coupons

One evening earlier this year The Wife had an accident with a pot of boiling water. After I had dealt with her burn wound as best as I could, bathing her arm in running cold water and applying a sulfa based burn cream I keep around the house, we realized she needed to visit the ER. It was a second degree burn and at first it hurt her quite a bit. But after the hospital eventually got around to treating her, she took some of their painkillers and by morning she reported that the burn wound felt tolerable.

But that night the ER doctor who saw The Wife immediately gave her a prescription for 16 oxycodones to take home with her, with an open option for more. Why 16? Think about it, that would be just enough to get somebody started on the drug. After a couple of weeks of downing oxycodones one might not want to stop taking them, for quite a few people it would take serious willpower to drop the drug completely and not go back to it.

Not everyone has the willpower to reject A Good Feeling when it is so easy to acquire the means to achieve that feeling. For someone living a marginal life or has no ambitions, it would be so easy to succumb to the enticement. As for The Wife, even though she has for one reason or other on several occasions dosed herself with opiates as per doctor’s orders, she has never cared for the dopey buzz and the 16 oxycodones sit somewhere in a drawer unconsumed.

Grandstanding Governor Cuomo Threatening To Aggravate The Problem Last August
Grandstanding Governor Cuomo Threatening To Aggravate The Problem Last August

I’m hardly the first person to declare that there is something very wrong with this whole system. Controlled doses of opiates regulated by foreign corporations are a legal way to keep people quiet and listless, but uncontrolled doses of essentially the same drug distributed by underground networks is extremely illegal and must be stopped by arresting customers and turning them into felons. In effect the authorities are not at all suppressing the illegal drug trade, they are actually trying to suppress wildcat competition to the preferred corporate opiate drug dealers.

Thus we see that the War On Opiate Drugs is really a massive subsidy for the Big Pharmaceutical corporations. Essentially this is the same old routine, the government uses The Law to suppress small business competition to the big corporations. In this case the competitors are forced underground and criminalized (and demonized,) thus ensuring the Big Pharm cartel remains intact.

Now, the reasonable and intelligent solution to The Drug Problem is to stop treating excessive drug use as primarily a criminal matter and start considering it a public health problem. This is the lesson learned by the attempt to outlaw the drug alcohol in the early part of the 20th century. The only effective way to regulate a popular and powerful drug is by providing support services to those who cannot self regulate their consumption of the drug.

Despite this clear and indisputable lesson our society still imposes prohibition upon itself for a long list of substances. The police, the courts, the prosecutors, the politicians and all too many lawyers have developed a vested interest in maintaining prohibition. And behind all these authorities are the Big Pharm corporations encouraging The War On Drugs so as to keep their own profits high.

Senator Charles Schumer Last Month Calling For $100 Million To Be Wasted On Failed Drug Policies
Senator Charles Schumer Last Month Calling For $100 Million To Be Wasted On Failed Drug Policies

Lately there appear to have been a whole raft of Heroin Is Now In The Suburbs stories in the corporate media all across the country. In response to the “sudden” suburbanization of heroin we’re hearing NY Senator Charles Schumer, a hardline corporatist, is responding to the sudden publicity by calling for $100 million to “fight” heroin. Not to deal with the addiction problem, mind you, but to pump more money into the failed War On Drugs.

Can Schumer’s grandstanding do something positive? Even a corporate propaganda sheet like Forbes understands that this is a pointless waste of money that is likely to cause more harm to society. Clearly Schumer is obediently calling for another taxpayer subsidy to keep Big Pharm’s drug prices high and suppress their competition, but even radical right propagandists are beginning to realize that this is not a good long-term strategy for maintaining corporate profits.

And the War Against Drugs turns me into a hypocrite. I strongly believe that no one should be arrested for drug use and that those who can’t handle drugs should receive help like alcoholics do, but here I’ve been kicking drug dealers out of my neighborhood. Personally I don’t give a damn if somebody likes to get high, that’s entirely their own business. And I usually support small businesses who are forced to compete with corporations, yet here I am opposing viable small enterprises in my neighborhood.

Because of the criminalization of non-corporate drug distributers, these drug dealing small businesses almost invariably operate like criminal enterprises. It’s the destruction and social disruption caused by these small criminal enterprises that make them obnoxious and thus intolerable. At the same time I support the locally owned pharmacy in our neighborhood that distributes corporate opiates to my neighbors. I’m a hypocrite.

It seems to me that the only way to undermine this monstrously corrupt but legal corporate drug cartel and the wasteful government prohibition of drugs is to begin treating excessive drug use more like a health problem than as a criminal matter. If enough of a grassroots health infrastructure is developed so that anyone anywhere who develops a drug problem can get treatment, then the services provided by that system would become expected and considered normal by ordinary people. It would not take long for an effective drug recovery health system to replace The Failed War On Drugs.

And that means every local government needs to develop that drug recovery health system for themselves. With State and Federal encouragement the suburban municipalities can learn to take care of their own people instead of irresponsibly tossing their addicts onto designated dumping grounds like the South End of Albany. Only in this way can we begin to think about breaking the financially devastating Big Pharm stranglehold on our society and their profitable policy of creating addicts, but at the rate we’re going that may never happen.


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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by:Barbara
Posted on:12/14/2014
When the school district determines the school tax, they base the taxes, by law, on the assessed value of all property in the district. Same with the city taxes. If property worth, say, three million dollars is tax exempt, as not-for-profits are, the school district has to collect the amount of taxes owed for the three million dollars worth of tax exempt property. This is one of the reasons people move to the suburbs, to avoid the higher property tax burden that comes with having a lot of tax exempt property.
I noticed in the news, the vim and vigor with which Colonie has pursued the owner of two motels, for code violations. They want to excuse him from high fines if he will agree to knock one of the buildings down, but apparently not if he repairs it. Where then, will the residents go? I think we both know the answer to that one. Those motels pay taxes, and they still don't want them in Colonie.

Posted by:Wanda
Posted on:12/15/2014
Altamont has Altamont House, Guilderland has SPARC, Colonie and Niskayuna have Conifer Park. There are, indeed, treatment centers in the burbs.

Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:12/16/2014
Wanda- Yes, these places exist in the suburbs, but they're not for desperate hard cases like Adam Rappaport. They're for people who can still afford and maintain a middle class lifestyle. He reportedly went through and failed all of these sorts of programs. The desperate cases are routinely dumped in my neighborhood because we allow it and because suburbanites think that those of us who live in the South End don't matter.

Posted by:And so it goes
Posted on:12/16/2014
I see drug dealing going on every day on Delaware Avenue.

The beat copy does nothing as "he's just selling small time stuff"

The dealing gets established, more dealers come, and the neighborhood deteriorates as the harder stuff moves in

Drives me crazy,

All your points are well taken with me.. Drug use is a health care issue, not a criminal issue.

Posted by:J
Posted on:12/27/2014

Series entitled The Wire created by David Simon dealt with every issue in your article suggest you Google or youtube for a clip.

The library had the series I can not begin to express how this changed our prospective on society.

Posted by:Mike Selender
Posted on:12/29/2014
Opium is the opium of the people.

Posted by:Ray
Posted on:01/06/2015
You let all the junkies know, either suburban or urban that you have a nice stash of pills in your house almost inviting the mutts to have a look for themselves.

Posted by:Terry O'Neill, Esq.
Posted on:01/07/2015
I've watched three decades of state and federal government dealing with successive waves of "the worst, most addictive drug ever". All sad, wasteful, destructive and stupid. This past year took the cake. All these stories about heroin and prescription opiates resulted in a legislative press conference one afternoon at which something like fifteen separate bills sponsored by fifteen separate legislators were introduced. I guess this time our pols really mean it.

Posted by:Fred Flintstone
Posted on:04/02/2015
You have many factual errors in your story. For starters, Adam was 29 not 22. He lived in Albany, not Guilderland. His mom lives in Schenectady. He had a loving and involved family but mom was the only one who spoke to reporters. This is just bad reporting used to support an opinion...

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