Governor Kathy Hochul passed a legislative packaged aimed at combating the opioid crisis. Some, who've spent their entire careers in the trenches of the war on drugs, say it will might actually make things worse.
"Making it easier to do drugs does not help," says Boonville Police Officer-in-Charge, Fred Robenski, who is also a Camden Police Officer. Robenski spent most of his career fighting the war on drugs; 23 years as a Rome Police Officer, 12 years assigned to the Oneida County Drug Task Force, Madison County Sheriff's Department drug unit, and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) Task Force for the Northern District of New York, where he worked with the FBI and federal organized crime drug enforcement task forces. He's referring to the recent decriminalization of the possession and sale of hypodermic needles.
Treatment experts call it "harm reduction", and some acknowledge it presents some unsavory choices.
"It seems like a very odd thing to say, 'I'm gonna give somebody a positive, healthier choice to use drugs,'" says Cassandra Sheets, CEO of The Center for Family Life and Recovery. "If we can help them stay alive, we've got a good chance at getting them to a place where they can be healthier."
Robenski says what's intended to be a tool, feels more like a hindrance.
"It seems every year there's more and more stumbling blocks put in our way. Our hands are tied. We're chained to a pole. It's becoming impossible to fight the war on drugs," says the veteran officer, who, in 2019, was finding discarded hypodermic needles very frequently in the village of Camden-a problem he thinks will be made worse by decriminalization.
"They're going to be found everywhere," says Robenski. "They'll be discarded everywhere. You'll find them in parks like this, you'll find them everywhere."
The Oneida County District Attorney's Office doesn't expect the new law will have much effect on what they do.
"In 2018 in the city of Utica, there were 11 arrests for possession of a hypodermic instrument. In 2019, there were 14 arrests for hypodermic instrument charge, in 2020, there was zero, in 2021, there was one," says Prosecutor, Grant Garramone.
As someone who's spent his professional career pulling people back from the clutches of addiction, Officer Robenski can't get his mind around it, on principle, or, in practice.
"Legalizing the very implements that are used to ingest the drugs. Common sense would dictate that we are not going in the right direction," says Officer Robenski.
CEO, Sheets, says it's not always a straightforward battle, but a twisting and turning path, which she hopes will ultimately lead to the desired goal.
"If you look at harm reduction in its truest form, you're really meeting the person where they're at, completely where they're at, even in their addiction, and if there's a way to put some form of positive, healthier choices at that moment there, helps you to be able to maybe get more give them maybe more empowerment to be making those positive choices," says Sheets.