Staten Island Continues To Face Drug Problem

NYPD Source Drops Dime On Dime-Bag Dealers

by Bradley Popkin

Staten Island has become known nationwide as a blemish on the landscape of New York City for all of the wrong reasons. The borough has been battling a prescription drug epidemic plaguing teenagers and young adults for the last several years. In 2011, one island resident overdosed every nine days.

Arrest_Police“I haven’t come across heavy drugs until I came to Staten Island,” said an NYPD source from the 121st precinct. “Members of my team confiscated 892 pills off of a drug deal that just went down. Two kids from jersey I think, they were in Rutgers [when they] bought it.”

The source, kept confidential because of department policy, has served on Staten Island for the last two years and has been a police officer for a total of four years. All other sources have had their names changed due to the nature of this article.

“Staten Island has two things going for it,” said the source. “It’s connected to jersey and we have a major port on the island and that’s a huge way drugs get in.”

In the past few years, several arrests have been made involving forged prescriptions and pill rings involving doctors. In February 2009, a pill ring was busted involving 22 young adults that led to fraudulent prescriptions filled at borough pharmacies. In January this year Joan Sullivan of Westerleigh, a nurse at a doctor’s office, was arrested and accused of forging prescriptions of an Ambien generic. Ambien is a sleep aid.

“They’ve been charged with a forgery-two, second degree,” said the officer. “It’s a felony and with that they will usually get criminal possession of a forged instrument. The pills as a controlled substance, depending on how many they get, could be a felony or misdemeanor.”

It all depends on the accused’s record and the prosecutor to determine if a deal is reached. Currently, they are only receiving “slaps on the wrists” and ROR, or Released On Recognizance.

Prescriptions pills aren’t the only drug plaguing the streets of the island.

“One of my partners got a drug dealer selling ten ounces of crack, which I think is almost $10,000 in street value,” said the NYPD source. “They released him and he was wanted in jersey because he had a loaded gun. He fled.”

Dealers typically get longer sentences. According to the source when a dealer buys from an undercover police officer three times, police will conduct a raid on the home of the dealer.

“If they’re selling it on the street, they typically do it by a bodega and take the customer inside,” said the source. “A lot of the time they’re in on it [the bodega].”

When it comes to cars they usually keep them in the center console, under the seat, or in the side of the door claims the source. Major dealers who run drugs and guns will have what cops call traps in their cars, like a secret compartment. One example is the stereo of a car, where by pressing a button or a combination results in a hidden compartment opening up.

“Usually we’ll have a confidential informant tell us,” said the officer. “Someone that we arrested that just bought drugs from them and they want to get a lesser charge.”

If the source or fellow officers are looking for a pill collar they typically find abusers around Klondike Avenue, a road near the Staten Island Mall and the former 122nd satellite precinct. In this neighborhood of New Springville, officers look for sedans with four occupants driving around, in the area of midnight, on a Friday or Saturday.

High schools around the borough have also been affected.

“I have come into contact with kids who have used prescriptions drugs and have come into my office to confide in me,” said James M., a drug educator from one high school. “It’s not an extensive problem but it’s here. I’ve seen maybe ten to twelve students in the last couple of years.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the NYPD

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the NYPD

Cuts to drug education and prevention have hindered attempts to influence students. The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services implemented a mid-year budget reduction of $3.1 million in 2008. OASAS funds school-based positions.

Numerous drugs have tainted the borough, including CSI. The campus, already being extremely large, received an influx of students last year with the opening of the Dolphin Cove. The campus is smoke-free, a term used loosely because of the lack of enforcement from Public Safety. But smoking cigarettes is not the only issue, marijuana is too. Several residents have complained about the strong stench.

“I’ve smelled it pretty often,” said Joel Youngberry.

Youngberry goes to school in Australia and is studying international business at CSI.

Students have been thrown out of their dorms if caught smoking the drug, according to Freshman Joe Tribuzio. There is also a potential incentive regarding the dismissal of residents. According to Clifford Michel, a resident of Dolphin Cove, there is a waiting list.

Searches of rooms are conducted by Resident Assistants. All staff and management are instructed not to speak with press.

“We’re never allowed in [dorms] by ourselves,” said Lauren P. “We don’t do random searches. If there is a search needed we bring in Public Safety or an Assistant General Manager. Noise complaints or any type of smoke constitutes a search.”

According to the resident handbook, sanctions may be used independently or in combination for any single violation. Residents failing to comply with any sanction issued by residence hall management may be evicted at the discretion of the management. Management may dismiss a resident for violating the drug policy.

The RA noted that “they’re able to appeal and give their side of the story to members of professional staff,” in regards to residents being evicted from their dorms. Appeals must be submitted within 24 hours of the sanction decision.

“If a resident is evicted from Dolphin Cove, he or she is still responsible for the balance due on the License Agreement they previously signed,” said Vice President of Finance and Administration, Ira Persky.

The crackdown on drugs such as Oxycontin, Valium, and Xanax could lead to unintended side-effects, like users turning to heroin. The street value of a pill has risen to as much as $30.

“Heroin is the next big thing,” said the officer. “We often see 60 decks of heroin, decks are like the paper glass they put it in.”

A drug bust on Staten Island in February 2013 saw 32 people arrested and multiple drugs confiscated. Soucre:

A drug bust on Staten Island in February 2013 saw 32 people arrested and multiple drugs confiscated. Source:

Luke Nasta, Executive Director of Camelot Counseling Center, has seen first hand how deadly of an impact prescription pills have had on the island.

“Prescription pills are deceptive,” said Nasta. “A deceptive drug made in the U.S. prescribed by doctors. But the chemical makeup of the pill includes the same risk as a bag of heroin, leading to the same lifelong dependency.”

Adrienne Abbate is the Director of TYSA, which stands for Tackling Youth Substance Abuse. The initiative began in 2011 and is led by a steering committee comprised of over thirty organizations and individuals from the non-profit, private and government sectors.

“We thought this would be an issue that can bring people across Staten Island and the state together,” said Abbate. “Before everyone was just working on their own individual mission, we needed to have everyone come together.”

A youth summit on March 29 at the Greenbelt Conservancy, hosted by TYSA, invites kids from across the island to participate and talk about the problem in relation to their neighborhood. TYSA has also partnered with the NYPD to carry naloxone, an opioid antagonist drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, in their patrol cars. According to Abbate it is being piloted at one precinct on the island.

Heroin, as both Nasta and the source note, is much cheaper and highly potent. Nasta says that heroin addiction has resulted in a 300% spike in patients admitted between 2011 and 2012. Heroin-related deaths increased 84% from 2010 to 2012 in New York City, according to The New York Times.

“I haven’t seen any heroin use in this school,” said James M. “I’m not saying it’s not here but I haven’t heard. I think it’s a little harder for a student to come and tell me because it’s that dark and dirty drug. They’re probably not coming to school anyway.”

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