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Heroin forum to address growing problem in Mohawk Valley

By ANNA MEILER

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) -- The increase in heroin addiction is leading to potential legislative action.

A bipartisan Senate task force is in the process of holding 12 public forums across the state. On Tuesday, lawmakers will be in Utica, leaning on local heroin and opiate addiction experts to bring numbers like these down:

The Upstate New York Poison Center received six calls from Oneida County hospitals in 2009 related to heroin cases. Last year, that number jumped to 16 and there have already been four cases in 2014.

Not only is heroin addiction increasing, it's becoming more dangerous.

"The heroin you're seeing now isn't like it was years ago because it's much more potent, much more powerful. It's usually cut with pain killers, other opiates so when people are injecting this they have no idea what they're actually using," said Donna Vitagliano, CEO of Insight House.

Insight House has seen a 15 percent increase in their patients. Vitagliano will present information to the Senate task force along with several other education experts and law enforcement.

"We're obviously seeing a big increase in terms of opiate use, heroin specifically. It's a much younger population, it's a population that definitely needs attention in terms of education, treatment, prevention and they're looking for suggestions in terms of stricter legislation that would discourage people from selling heroin," said Vitagliano.

Vitagliano says it's encouraging to see lawmakers peeling their ears, especially because heroin addiction affects the whole community, not just the user.

"They resort to stealing, shoplifting. That ends up costing everybody in the community money. Also cost money in terms of hospitals, the court systems, so it's a whole trickle down effect in terms of how it affects all of us," said Vitagliano.

After the 12 meetings lawmakers will look for common themes among all the localities and try to construct legislation to combat this growing problem. Residents are encouraged to attend and participate in a question and answer session.

The meeting will be held on the first floor of the state office building at 207 Genesee Street from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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