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The opioid epidemic’s deadly reach

September 7, 2018 12:30 am

For Thomas MacGregor, the battle against addiction, or some private demon we can’t begin to guess, ended in an isolated, white-lined rectangle in the parking lot of Walmart on Route 9 in Greenport.

MacGregor, who lived in Athens, died in his car, for all appearances alone, Aug. 20, of a heroin overdose, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Making this even sadder, MacGregor had been dead for nine days before he was found Aug. 29, police said Wednesday. As he lay in his car, unnoticed, life went on at Walmart.

Questions are emerging about how MacGregor remained undiscovered for so long in a parking lot frequented by hundreds of customers each day. The parking lot of the Greenport Walmart has about 700 parking spaces. Walmart has declined to comment.

We hope the state police investigation will answer this question and many more that are likely to follow in the days to come.

Police reviewed video surveillance footage provided by Walmart. The footage confirmed MacGregor was in the parking lot since Aug. 20. MacGregor was reported missing to state police, but they asked Columbia County sheriff’s deputies to assist with the investigation.

Deputy David Pulcher found MacGregor in the Walmart parking lot by means of his last-known cell phone coordinates, which showed him to be in the area of Fairview Avenue and Joslen Boulevard.

Twenty overdose deaths traced to heroin were reported in Greene and Columbia counties from 2013-15, according to the latest data compiled by the state Department of Health. Three of the 20 reported deaths occurred in Columbia County between the ages of 18 and 44. Eight deaths between the ages of 18 and 44 occurred in Greene County.

Among the 45-64 age range, four deaths occurred in Columbia County and five were reported in Greene County.

The opioid epidemic is not just a crisis among young people. It can affect middle-aged men and women, too. It isn’t a matter of age or wealth or status. It’s a health problem from which no one, at any age, is immune. It drives home the point that addiction is an illness that must be treated.

Thomas MacGregor is a stranger to us. We don’t know his state of mind on Aug. 20 or his level of dependence on opioids.

We can say this: He did not fit the pattern of the stereotypical heroin addict.

MacGregor was an accomplished architectural designer who worked at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City and as a studio manager with Richard Artschwager.

He founded his own design firm based in Brooklyn, and completed residential projects across the state, including Manhattan and Brooklyn, Pemaquid and Amsterdam. He was a 1976 graduate of Albany High School and attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and State University of New York at Albany.

His family, in shock and grieving, has asked for privacy and declined to talk about what happened.

Thomas MacGregor’s untimely passing is tragic because of the loneliness and mystery surrounding it, but it sends a clear message that the opioid crisis doesn’t discriminate by age, education or economic status. It can reach anyone, anywhere — even an expert architectural designer in an outermost corner of a shopping center parking lot.