Retired New York State police sergeant Fred Scheidt of Greenfield says you never see it coming. He lost his daughter, Katie-Lynn Scheidt, October 3, 2014, and the grief has never left him or the rest of Katie’s family. “But what makes me really angry,” said Scheidt, “is that she was four months clean when her dealer got to her. Regular people don’t understand the criminal element. They think that criminals are just like you and me. They aren’t.”
According to Scheidt, dealers think nothing of handing out free heroin samples to people who are in recovery, because they know they’ll be back for more, willing to pay, willing to beg, borrow and steal to pay for more.
“Katie would say she had to change her phone number because pushers were trying to encourage her to get back into it,” said Scheidt. “Subtly, people are dying. If you took out a pin map and marked all the spots, people would go, ‘are you kidding me?’”
The combination of the often painful physical addiction; easy access to cheap opioids like heroin; and the insidious, cloying “friendship” offered by dealers with no conscience suggest overdose deaths are more inevitable than accidental. And murderous.
According to New York State Senator George Amedore, "The state of New York is facing a heroin crisis, and we need to do everything we can to stop the flow of these deadly drugs into our streets. Our efforts to increase prevention, treatment and recovery to help those suffering with addiction need to go hand-in-hand with stronger penalties for those who are bringing these drugs into our communities."
And so, Amedore introduced “Laree’s Law” (S.4163) in 2015, legislation that establishes the crime of homicide by sale of an opiate-controlled substance and makes the crime a class A-1 felony, punishable by 15 to 25 years in prison. It had originally been introduced the year before by Senator Neil Breslin, but was taken up by the majority in 2015. It passed the Senate but died in Assembly last year, and is presently on third reading on the floor of the Senate, while still being weighed in the Codes Committee in the Assembly (A.6039, sponsored by Assemblyman Michael DenDekker).
Currently, drug dealers are not held accountable in New York State if one of their “clients” dies of an overdose. If the case is tried at the federal level, such as in Katie’s situation, then the dealer can face 20 years to life with the added homicide charge.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, several states press homicide charges when a dealer’s sale results in an overdose death. It can even lead to a death penalty in Florida and Nevada.
But, according to Oscar Schreiber, Public Defender with the Saratoga County Public Defenders Office in Ballston Spa, that’s not the case in New York State. Even someone with a prior violent felony, like rape, who is being convicted of felony drug possession, might be sentenced to just 2 to 2.5 years in prison, depending on several other factors, even if the user who bought drugs from him dies of an overdose. Some defendants can face up to 30 years, depending on priors and other factors. But none face homicide charges in New York State.
"A local mother had come to us originally," said Amedore spokesperson Eileen Miller. "She’s a former Albany police detective from Colonie and her daughter, Laree Farrell Lincoln, died of an overdose in 2013." Fred Scheidt said Laree had also been going through rehabilitation when she died.
Schreiber said it’s especially dangerous for someone who has been trying to get clean. “Their resistance to the drug is so down after 30 days of coming off it, that if they slip and use, their dead,” he said. “We see a lot of that.”
“I think people who kill people need to be held accountable,” said Scheidt, “not only because of what they have done, but what they could do. We could see him [Matthew P. Charo, defendant in the case of Katie’s death] downtown with his friends. My family would see him around town, and all we could think was what would happen if his activities – because he was allowed to be out for whatever reason – what if he killed someone else. I believe he was still dealing drugs in downtown Saratoga, and at any moment, any one of those could have resulted in a death.”
According to Saratoga Springs Deputy Fire Chief Peter Shaw, “On average for the past three or four months, we have been using Narcan a couple times a week.”
The StopOverdoseIL.com website states Narcan™ (naloxone) is an opiate antidote. According to the site, “Opioids include heroin and prescription pain pills like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone and Vicodin. When a person is overdosing on an opioid, breathing can slow down or stop and it can very hard to wake them from this state. Narcan is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose.”
“Sadly, we have been experiencing approximately 4 to 6 heroin-related overdose deaths per year for the past couple of years. We have another 20 or so responses to overdose situations that require transport to the hospital,” said Saratoga Springs Police Chief Gregory Veitch.
Nationally, heroin-related overdose deaths almost quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, and drug overdoses kill more Americans than car accidents each year.
This kind of nightmare is all too familiar for the Scheidt family, who would have been celebrating their daughter’s 32nd birthday on Friday, April 8.
“It [Friday] sucked every which way but loose,” said Scheidt. “You wake up every morning, shake your head and say ‘that was a terrible dream.’ Then you realize it wasn’t a dream. It’s reality.”
For Katie’s mother, Eve Cascone of Wilton, the pain has become worse with time. “Now it’s real,” she said. “I was in denial last year. I can’t deny it anymore. It’s become very ‘in my face,’ and real. Don’t think it won’t happen to your child. Not that I’m saying give up hope – I’m saying be very careful and watch carefully because it can just grab anybody. It’s a disease, not a moral issue.”
Chief Veitch said that in particular, heroin addiction is exceptionally difficult to handle for both the user and their loved ones. “Heroin is an issue in Saratoga Springs as it is everywhere,” said Veitch, “and law enforcement is only one part of the solution. Families, friends and service agencies all have a part to play in reducing the adverse effects that heroin has on the individual, their loved ones and the community.”
Schreiber said for many users treatment would be better than jail. “We have a drug treatment court in this county,” he said, “and my office is pretty progressive – we just hired a social worker.” With her help, the court can better assess the best course of action not only for rehabilitation, but also for preventing situations like Katie’s and Laree’s.
Victims’ families do want better rehabilitation, but they also want dealers to face accountability – not just for selling drugs, but also for the resulting deaths. As far as these families are concerned, dealers in New York State are getting away with murder. Literally. That’s why so many are pushing for Laree’s Law.
Part of the problem, Schreiber said, is that it can be difficult to prove the defendant was selling, and not just in possession as another user. And Scheidt wants to be sure the Good Samaritan Law stays in effect.
“I’d much rather have Katie back alive than Matt Charo in jail for life,” said Scheidt. That said, Katie’s father, as a former state police officer, knows well that some dealers are not rehabilitatable, and belong under lock and key for a long time.
“It’s not just the money for them,” said Scheidt. “Some of this is power as well. They find this 21-year-old girl and now they own her. Drug addiction is terrible enough. Homicide is terrible enough. But if you’re 21 years old and addicted, your dealers own you. They offer it free because they know you’ll be addicted, that you’ll go to the ends of the earth for it. They’ve cornered the market. What New York State needs is a clean law without a lot of loopholes, so these scumbags who prey on them, these pushers, don’t kill any more addicts. Katie’s dead. She’s not coming back. We’re not doing this for us, it’s for others.”
Cascone believes Katie would have wanted her family to help people understand the heroin crisis. “Before she died, she had been off the heroin for quiet some time,” said Katie’s mother. “And we were seeing the Katie we all knew. She was clear headed and had goals. One of them was to speak out against heroin, and I feel her family is doing that for her. I think that’s what she really wants us to do. I hope the people who love her never forget her.”
Scheidt remembers exactly having such a conversation with his daughter before she died. “Like Katie said to me on the 26th of September,” he said, “people have to know.”
For more information about Laree’s Law, call your New York State senator at 518-455-3216 or assembly member at 518-455-4218. For more about Katie and her life, visit her obituary.
Capital District Hotline: 518-227-0294
To learn about meetings in Saratoga Springs, call Darrin F. at 518-928-5687
Saratoga Drug Arrests
Arrests in the City of Saratoga Springs for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance have doubled from 52 in 2010-11 to 106 in 2015-16.
Source: Saratoga Springs Police Department.
Total drug arrests in Saratoga County have increased 33%
from 299 in 2011 to 443 in 2015.
Source: DCJS, www.CriminalJustice.ny.gov.
Statewide Opioid Trends
· Heroin-related deaths increased 163% between 2009 and 2013.
· Naloxone emergency administration increased by 57% in one year, 2014 over 2013.
· Opioid-related emergency department visits increased 73% between 2010 and 2014.
· Half of heroin-related overdose deaths are under age 35.
· Heroin-related overdose deaths of people under age 35 increased by 268% in 2013 since 2009.
“Most overdoses are not instantaneous, and most are witnessed by others.
Therefore, many overdose fatalities are preventable, especially if witnesses have had appropriate training.”
Source: Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report to the Governor and NYS Legislature by the New York State Department of Health and AIDS Institute.