Authorities see crack resurgence in Washington, Warren counties

An alleged serial burglar’s explanation that a crack cocaine habit motivated a slew of recent home burglaries in Washington County came as no surprise to local police.

Over the past year or so, as local police and prosecutors have seen a noticeable increase in the number of powdered and crack cocaine users and dealers.

While the opioid epidemic has received much attention and resources from law enforcement because of the overdose deaths it has caused, that crackdown has resulted in less attention being given to a drug that has been an issue for decades.

“We were starting to notice it over the summer,” said Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan. “It was a topic of conversation among some of us at the summer DAs conference.”

State Police said the Vermont man arrested in connection with a recent burglary spree in Washington and Rensselaer counties was selling stolen items for money to buy crack cocaine. A massive drug sweep in Saratoga County in October led to the arrest of 30 people who were part of an alleged cocaine distribution ring, and a town of Saratoga cocaine kingpin was charged in March.

Hudson Falls Police Chief Scott Gillis, who as a detective handled drug cases until his promotion earlier this year, said police are finding more crack cocaine in recent months.

“I don’t know what the explanation is, but we are seeing more of an influx in crack cocaine than we had been,” he said.

“There is still heroin in our area, but crack has been more active in our area,” said Glens Falls Police Detective Lt. Peter Casertino.

A higher supply of cocaine might be behind at least part of the increase.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration forecast an uptick in cocaine availability last winter, saying that coca farmers in South America had ramped up harvests to the highest levels ever seen. Cocaine is processed from the coca plant, and Colombia is believed to produce about 90 percent of the cocaine seized in the U.S.

“Potential pure cocaine production in Colombia has reached the highest levels ever recorded,” DEA analyst Leah-Perle Bloomenstein said during a media call in February.

Susan Robertson, director for Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery drug treatment program, said Thursday that her staff began noticing a “slight uptick” in cocaine use as far back as two or so years ago that has grown in the years since. Other treatment providers in the region have noticed the same increase, she added.

“We’ve definitely seen more of a trend with more crack cocaine and powder cocaine use,” Robertson said.

Opioid users mix cocaine and heroin for a drug cocktail known as a “speedball,” she said.

Jordan said the increase in cocaine use does not mean that opiates have become less of a problem, though.

“We had a heroin overdose death in Fort Edward less than a month ago,” Jordan said.

At the summer conference of the state District Attorney’s Association, prosecutors in the central part of the state talked about a noticeable recent increase in methamphetamine abuse, Jordan explained.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate that meth has never really hit here like it has in other parts of the state,” Gillis said.