The Putnam Examiner

Drug Busts and Deaths Shed Light on Putnam’s Growing Opiate Problem

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The recent deaths and arrests of Putnam’s young population is drawing more attention to the growing opiate drug problem that plagues Putnam and its surrounding communities—particularly Somers and Yorktown.

Opiate drugs include prescription drugs such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone and others as well as the illegal drug heroin.

Last week four young people were arrested after a four month-long, joint investigation between the law enforcement agencies of Putnam and Westchester into heroin distribution.

On Dec. 19, Peter Muir, 25, Alora Muir, 19 and Cody Vonelm, 19, all from Somers, and Bret Oleet, a 25-year old Yorktown resident, were all arrested with intent-to-sell drug charges by the New York State Police and the Yorktown Police. They were some of the most recently charged, but they are not the only opiate-related arrests to occur on either side of the Putnam/northern Westchester border.

Back on Dec. 5, Nidal Aljamal, a 37-year old Mahopac resident was charged with dealing oxycodone pills from the state Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. In November Benjamin J. Variara, a 35-year-old Mahopac resident was arrested for dealing narcotics by the Putnam Sheriff’s Department. The list goes on and on.

Over the past month, four young men have died after being brought to Putnam Hospital Center for suspected heroin overdoses, according to the Putnam Sheriff’s Department. One man was from Putnam Lake, another from Mahopac. The other two men were from Somers. A fifth man, who lived in Somers, survived an overdose during the same period.

Unfortunately, those that died increase the number of overdoes-related deaths, from people within the 18-to-34 years old range in Putnam and northern Westchester, to over a dozen this past year alone.

Two families, the Salomone family of Mahopac and the Christiansen family of Somers, both of whom have lost family members within this past year, have joined together to bring awareness to the scourge of prescription drug abuse, both locally and nationwide, so that other families might avoid the pain and heartbreak they have lived through.

The Salomone and Christiansen families held awareness forums in Mahopac in August, in Somers in October and plan on hosting one in Yorktown in February.

Susan Salomone, who lost her son Justin in May, said during the August forum that her son’s battle with drugs began during high school and escalated to prescription drugs when he went off to college.

He eventually dropped out and the following years included an arrest for possession of oxycodone, an opiate-based prescribed pain killer that is recognized as being highly addictive, followed by rehab, where his use of heroin began, his parents later learned. He was enrolled in a medical trial for a drug to treat heroin addiction that was followed by nine months of sobriety and then two more years of struggling with his addiction. Justin suffered brain damage from the overdose at the end of last year and went through months of therapy to regain movement. Two weeks after he moved out of his parent’s house to a supervised residence, he died from another overdose.

“We do know from past experience that drug overdoses are often accidental and can occur at any time,” said County Executive MaryEllen Odell in a released statement pertaining to the four recent overdose-suspected deaths.  She encouraged everyone’s help in preventing more deaths from occurring.

“We have many resources in Putnam County for individuals and families who want to get help in preventing substance abuse as well as resources for those who are chemically dependent,” said Odell. “Everyone, especially Putnam’s parents, should be aware of the dangers of prescription pill abuse among young people. Evident warning signs of possible chemical dependency in our youngsters include failing in school, becoming socially withdrawn, and changes in behavior.”

Odell urged anyone who needed help to contact Putnam’s Crisis Hotline (845-225-1222), which is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Operated by United Way’s 2-1-1 program, it can connect those in need of treatment.

The law enforcement agencies in Putnam and Westchester are continuing the investigation into the distribution and possession of heroin and oxycodone within the two counties.  Anyone with information is encouraged to contact their local State Police barracks, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety or the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office to make a report.

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