Tompkins County Sheriff On Legal Pot And Jail-Based Drug Treatment

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne took office in January. He’s now in his sixth month in the position. Osborne recently sat down with WSKG’s Celia Clarke in the Ithaca studio.  In this excerpt, Osborne talks about drug abuse,  including his only concern over the possible legalization of recreational marijuana.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne

CELIA CLARKE: I want to talk for awhile about substance abuse. Sort of describe the relationship, in Tompkins County, between substance abuse, of any kind and people who end up in…the county jail?

DEREK OSBORNE: Absolutely. It’s pretty common that anyone who enters our jail is going to have a substance abuse issue, possible a mental health issue and a lot of times an issue with both. Ah, that’s always been a big problem. Corrections officers have pointed that out themselves for years that the jail ends up being the place where people with these types of issues are sent and it’s difficult for us, ah, because we haven’t always been equipped to deal with those issues.

One thing the county did shortly before I took office was provide additional medical staff. For many years we only had one nurse in the jail, now we have two. That’s been a huge issue so now we have more staff to address medical issues which includes substance abuse so I think that’s helpful. And, we’re also looking at ways to help people to reduce their cravings for substances.

CC: Whether it’s in the jail or just in general working around the county, what is the number one issue, substance issue that you’re seeing?

DO: Right now, heroin is up, that’s a big thing.

CC: When you say “back up”, what, describe a little bit of what’s been happening?

DO: Well, in the law enforcement world it’s real interesting. When I first started my career in 1995 I remember the older people I work with talking about heroin back in the day and I kinda laughed. You know, I was young and I was like, that’s the drug the hippies used back in the seventies, you know. But, if you know anything about how drugs work it’s cyclical. Everything comes ‘round again and it’s based off what’s readily available, what’s cheap and things like that. So, people addicted to drugs, if they’re using one drug and it becomes high priced or they can’t get it they’ll move on to another one and it is, it’s completely cyclical.

CC: So, in Tompkins County are we seeing an increase, in heroin?

I think we’re seeing in increase nationwide absolutely and you know a lot of the problems we’re having when you look at the deaths we’re having really come down to fentanyl. Um, a lot of drugs are laced with fentanyl and that’s causing the problem in the overdoses.

CC: What goes on with someone who comes in, you don’t want them going through, like, cold turkey withdrawal I assume, what are some of the whether it’s alcohol or…

DO: Well, that’s the hard part, that’s where we’re kinda stuck because people are often put in our facility and we don’t have the means to treat them like we would like to and if, if you’ve been in my shoes and you’ve seen someone come and they’re detoxing that’s a very painful thing to watch, it’s not pleasant and our hands are kind of ties. We do help them the best we can to get through it and we’re hoping with the grant when that gets started up, it’s gonna help as well. But, there’s no easy way around it, when somebody’s detoxing and they go cold turkey it’s a very hard thing to get them through.

CC:  And talk about what the grant, the medically assisted treatment, what is the grant you’re getting and when is it going to start?

DO:  I’m not sure of the exact start date. It will be soon. It’s something our jail captain is putting together now. But, it is a grant that will go towards additional medications that will help curb cravings for drugs.

CC:  So, I think the more current issue is what the [New York state] legislature is going to do with recreational marijuana, so where do you stand and what is your thinking right now on the legalization…?

DO:  Well, the reality is marijuana’s been around forever. It’s going to remain around forever, I’m guessing, you know, and I’m a realist. I have no doubt marijuana benefits a lot of people. I do think it has health benefits for people suffering from certain disorders and I think that has to be taken into consideration and I would never say I’m flat out against something.

Where I have to be concerned is when it comes into the public safety of everybody in our community. And, you know, things like driving while ability impaired, is a big thing for me…So, a lot of people, possibly could use marijuana and they wouldn’t cause a problem with anybody but it’s that small group of people that would have access to it now or possible already do that would get into their cars and drive while high on marijuana, that’s what I’m concerned about.

CC:  Thank you so much. Thanks for coming in.

DO:  Yeah, anytime.