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Taking on Opiates in the North Country: Task Force Hears Gut-Wrenching Testimony

Shawn Mckeen has been struggling with drugs since he was a teenager.
PLATTSBURGH - Shawn Mckeen has been struggling with drugs since he was a teenager.

"I've seen many of my friends get lengthy prison sentences, and I've seen loved ones of mine die," McKeen said Friday in front of State Senators Betty Little (R-NY District 45) and Phil Boyle (R-NY District 4).

One of those loved ones was his girlfriend Anna, who died in 2010 from complications related to her drug addiction. They met in Narcotics Anonymous. McKeen was clean at the time, but relapsed.

"When I'm actively using opiates or heroin, I'm a monster," McKeen said. "I will steal, I will lie, I will snitch, I will cheat." His testimony brought Senator Little to tears. She's a member of a new Senate task force on opioid addiction.

"It's just heartbreaking what they have been through," said Sen. Little. "And there are many, many people out there that are going through this."

Law enforcement officials say heroin is relatively new to the North Country. There are no detox facilities in Clinton, Essex or Franklin counties, and very few nearby rehab centers. Addicts are sent to other parts of the state with more established, more intense drug circles.

"He's going to meet up with somebody from Rochester, somebody from Long Island, somebody from Syracuse," explained Wylie. Those connections are how Wylie says cheap heroin makes it way up north.

"They're buying them there and coming up and selling them and preying on people up here," said Sen. Little.

While the task force is brand new, Sen. Little says it plans to recommend new laws to help people like Shawn McKeen, and others who testified Friday.

"They need support. And their families need support," she said.

Eighteen state senators are members of the task force. Friday's hearing in Plattsburgh was just one of many that will be held around the state, so the committee can come up with new legislation to fight the problem.
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