Massena residents, law enforcement exchange gratitude on the heels of Operation Gravy Train
Attendees and law enforcement pose for a photo at the end of the event. Mayor Tim Currier asked that the residents as a symbolic gesture stand behind the police officers for the shot. North Country Now photo by Andy Gardner.
By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- About 50 people gathered in Veterans Park to thank law enforcement and hear speakers talk about the ongoing drug fight and resources available to help the addicted.
The event came on the heels of Operation Gravy Train, which charged 106 people who were allegedly involved in trafficking heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in St. Lawrence County.More than 30 suspects came from Massena, and the plurality came from the greater Massena-Ogdensburg area.
In addition to members of the community expressing gratitude to local police, municipal and police officials extended thanks to residents for being patient with investigators while they built cases against the alleged drug dealers, which took months.
“Community members were willing to get involved, show us support and give us tips … for that we are grateful,” Massena Police Chief Adam Love said. “It can be hard to see the light through the clouds when you’re living in a neighborhood where drugs are sold and police seem oblivious to the new drug store that’s sprung up on your street.
“Simply focusing on low-level dealers … does little to disrupt drug trafficking.”
He offered a warning to people selling narcotics in Massena.
“Tomorrow could be the morning we show up with a warrant for your arrest or a BearCat doing renovations on your front porch,” he said. “There will be severe consequences if you seek profit from those suffering from addiction in our community.”
He was referring to a militarized state police CERT team that used an armored BearCat with a battering ram attached to break down the door at 72 Maple St., where an Operation Gravy Train suspect lived. Police believed there may have been people with guns in the house that could have posed a threat to police trying to make the arrest.
Mayor Tim Currier pointed out that while some major dealers and suppliers have been taken off the street, the addicts they fuel are still there and they need help.
He said opiate addiction “is not about weakness, not about choice in some cases.They were prescribed by a provider a medication that for some reason they’re wired a little different than you or I and they became addicted.” He is referring to powerful narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin, which for many heroin users is the gateway drug.
“Recovery to addiction is a lifelong process which makes it a very challenging thing,” Currier said.
Before taking the mayor’s office while still chief of police, Currier started the Massena Drug Free Community Coalition, which still works today and includes members from various local organizations and agencies.
“We’re taking a 360 degree approach to the drug problem. We’re going to be dealing with this drug problem for a while,” he said.
One of those members is 39 Serenity Place, which offers help to addicts who are having trouble staying clean.
Danny LaPrade, who helps run the organization at 39 1/2 Maple St., said they “take in people who are struggling, trying to maintain their sobriety and trying to be clean from drugs.”
A recovering alcoholic himself, LaPrade tried to convey to the crowd what those in recovery are up against.
He asked those in the crowd to take a breath and hold it in.
“Imagine there’s a crazy law comes out that if you breath you’re going to jail,” he said. “How long can you hold it?”
“A craving for alcohol can be as intense for an addict as taking a breath is for you and me. It’s not something they can stop or are just going to quit doing because someone tells them to.”
Both alcohol and heroin can require medically assisted detox treatments to get through the initial stages of withdrawal.
He said he feels police are a necessary component of the battle against drugs, and without them, he may not have taken the first steps to recovery.
“I got there (sober) through the actions of people I hated the most - police officers,” he said. “Because of the police officers, I was able to find ways I could get sober and get clean, and remain that way.”
Massena Drug-Free Coalition Coordinator Kristen Collarusso-Martin said she was pleased with the event’s turnout.
“Whenever people come out, it’s very positive,” she said following the event.
The coalition meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 39 1/2 Maple St. from 3 to 4 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.