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WEB ONLY: Buzz Kill

WEB ONLY: Buzz Kill.

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var sbtitle=encodeURIComponent(“”); var sburl=decodeURI(“”);var sburl=sburl.replace(/amp;/g, “”);sburl=encodeURIComponent(sburl);Although it was almost 30 years between Vietnam and Bush’s still-ongoing Iraq War, the banging of the beaten dead horse conundrum that is the war on drugs still sparks contention.

Also in the Oct. 1, 1970, issue of The New Times (page 13), an article titled “Rocky Road Show” by Stan Pinkwas chronicled a September 1970 town hall meeting conducted by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller at the Randolph House Ballroom in Liverpool.

Pinkwas stated that “The governor opened the meeting with a brief speech about his drug control achievements: 14,000 being treated under the civil commitment program… 20,000 under methadone care… $200 million loan fund… $99,000 for methadone treatment in Onondaga County… 400 addicts at Argory House… claimed a 45 percent civil commitment rehabilitation rate.” Reportedly, several chants of “Liar!” rang out after the governor made that statement.

Describing one of the more impassioned scenes from the night, Pinkwas went on to report that, “Paul Hartley, a professor at Syracuse University, accused Rockefeller of neglecting alcoholics and adult addicts, of neglecting the barbituate and soft drug problem, of closing job openings to ex-street people and of generally operating with a ‘honky mentality,’ adding that the greatest danger a drug user has to face is the law enforcement agencies out to rehabilitate him or put him away.”

For some contemporary perspective, we called Jeremy Klemanski, president and CEO of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare (SBH). “You’d have a hard time finding too many people in the criminal justice system that think Rockefeller’s drug laws were and still are effective,” he said. “There’s a recognition that the Rockefeller drug laws have been the most ineffective public policy the state has ever had and it looks like the state is finally moving forward because they’re more willing to save money.”

Established in 1920, SBH offers extensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment through inpatient, outpatient and residential services divisions. As an all-inclusive provider, SBH welcomes patient referrals made from a number of sources such as primary care physicians, therapists, social workers and court-mandated decrees.

SBH has two inpatient facilities, the medically supervised Evaluation Center, where patients are first admitted so the effects of narcotic withdrawal can be properly monitored and treated. From there, they move on to the Willows, a 40-bed dormitory-like housing facility. In 2008, the Willows treated 636 people: 38.1 percent for alcohol; 4.4 percent for cocaine; 18.1 percent for crack; 17.3 percent for heroin; 13.4 percent for marijuana; 5.8 percent for “other” opiates; 1.7 percent for Oxycontin and 1.2 percent for all others.

Even though they are a non-profit organization, nobody is denied help based on ability to pay. SBH is able to cover monetary gaps through a state funding program that allots a designated allowance of New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) deficit dollars per year, as well as coverage from Medicaid and private insurance companies to help pay for their $8 million annual operating budget. Klemanski notes that Gov. David Paterson is lobbying for a 10 percent cut to a $775 million budget proposed by OASAS for treatment facilities like SBH, which would ultimately cut out $667,000 in funding for the Willows–meaning they would not be able treat as many patients as they’d like.

“So how are we going to treat people with a lot less money?” continues Klemanski. “It is far cheaper to treat addiction then it is to incarcerate a person and when we treat an addiction, we prevent crime, because the part of the brain that lets us decide right from wrong is affected by substance abuse, which leads people to make choices they probably would not make if they were sober.”

The criticism of the Rockefeller Drug Laws was that they harshly targeted the bumpkins of the drug game such as those possessing small amounts and small-time dealers. One of the laws decreed that anyone caught selling more than two ounces of an illegal drug receives a minimum 15-years-to-life sentence. When these laws began to take effect in the 1970s, 9 percent of New York’s prison population was locked up because of drug-related offenses; since then, that rate has increased 20 percent, while also quadrupling the amount of “criminals” incarcerated–costing New York state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the process.

“A lot of folks that went to jail because of a drug problem still need treatment when they get out,” continues Klemanski. “We partner with the Syracuse Community Treatment Court run by Kim Kozlowski and City Court Judge Jeff Merrill and we couldn’t be as successful as we are without them. We try to make sure people are getting treatment instead of going to jail.”

Klemanski also mentions that SBH receives contracts from the New York state Parole Board as well as the Federal Probation Office in the region, and those partnerships are the catalyst for people finally starting to logically agree that not everyone that uses drugs is a criminal. “The longer we can keep them engaged,” he continues, “the more successful in treating someone will be, which is hard to do if they are in jail.”

-Tom Kahley

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