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Opioid

Narcan, a drug that stops opioid overdoses. File photo by Jessica Suarez

By Donna Deedy

New York State Attorney General’s office announced March 28 that it has expanded a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and members of the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma made and marketed OxyContin.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Suffolk County, has now become the nation’s most extensive case to date to legally address the opioid crisis.  

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D)applauded the move.

“It is our hope that our lawsuit, and ones like it, will bear fruit that forever changes the way destructive—but profitable—drugs are marketed and sold across the nation,” he said.

“As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers’ health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill.”

— Letitia James

The lawsuit alleges that six national prescription opioid manufacturers, four prescription drug distributors and members of the Sackler family are largely responsible for creating the opioid epidemic through years of false and deceptive marketing that ignored their obligation to prevent unlawful diversion of the addictive substance. 

The amended lawsuit includes Attorney General Letitia James’  findings from a multi-year, industry-wide investigation of opioid market participants, which alleges that manufacturers implemented a common “playbook” to mislead the public about the safety, efficacy, and risks of their prescription opioids. 

“Manufacturers pushed claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, promoted false statements about the non-addictive nature of these drugs, masked signs of addiction by referring to them as “pseudoaddiction” and encouraged greater opioid use to treat it, and suggested that alternative pain relief methods were riskier than opioids, among other grossly misleading claims,”  the attorney general’s office stated in its summary of the amended suit. The office claims that manufacturers used a vast network of sales representatives to push dangerous narratives and target susceptible doctors, flood publications with their deceptive advertisements, and offer consumer discount cards and other incentives to them to request treatment with their product. 

The manufacturers named in the amended complaint include Purdue Pharma and its affiliates, members of the Sackler family (owners of Purdue) and trusts they control, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates (including parent company Johnson & Johnson), Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates, Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates and Allergan Finance, LLC.  The distributors named in the complaint are McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation and Rochester Drug Cooperative, Inc.

“As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers’ health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill,” James stated. “The manufacturers and distributors of opioids are to blame for this crisis and it is past time they take responsibility.” 

“This company and company’s owners knew the addictive quality and used it for financial gain.”

— Kara Hahn

The opioid epidemic has ravaged families and communities nationwide and across New York. Suffolk County has been particularly hard hit statewide. When the county originally filed its lawsuit, legislators reported that the region suffered the highest number of heroin deaths statewide.  Between 2009 and 2013, 418 people died of a heroin overdose. Many people turned to heroin when their prescriptions ran out.  The opioid related death tolls have continued to rise.According to New York State Health Department data for 2017, opioid pain relievers, including illicitly produced fentanyl, caused 429 deaths in Suffolk County. Over six thousand people were admitted for opioid addiction, including heroin, into the counties Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. 

“I applaud New York State Attorney General James for joining in our efforts to recoup untold amounts of public funds that were spent to assist those afflicted by this epidemic,” Bellone stated. “Suffolk County is taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook to hold the Sackler family and others accountable for their role in connection with the opioid crisis.  

The Suffolk County legislature is proceeding with their lawsuit as it was originally put forward, but officials agreed with the state’s initiative.

“The pharceutical companies opened the flood gates,” said county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai). “I agree the Sacklers should be targeted for a lawsuit.”

County Legislators Anker, Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson) and William Spencer (D-Centerport) originally co-sponsored the bill.

“It’s an incredibly important that all responsible be held accountable,” Hahn said. “This company and company’s owners knew the addictive quality and used it for financial gain.”

Port Jefferson Village constables Brent Broere and James Murdocco. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson code officers James Murdocco and Brent Broere are quick thinkers and a dynamic team, and thanks to their efforts, a young man who suffered a drug overdose is alive today.

Despite being delayed by a passing train in late December, when the constables arrived at the scene of a parked car on Belle Terre Road, they sprung into action. Broere had prepared a Narcan dose, the drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid-related overdose, on the way. When the pair arrived at the parking lot of Fairfield at Port Jefferson apartment complex, Murdocco took the syringe and raced to the car.

“This young man regained his life directly in front of everyone.”

— Eyewitness

“He’s pretty much done,” Murdocco recalled thinking that Dec. 22 night when he saw the victim behind the already opened driver’s seat door, whose head was leaning back against the headrest. He said the female passenger was “worked up,” and even tried hitting the victim’s chest in an effort to spark a sign of life. Murdocco climbed in the car, straddling the unresponsive victim next to the girl who was letting out harrowing screams at the comatose man, hoping for a response.

“He was actually purple,” a witness said of the victim. “The situation heightened when no pulse was noted for some time. This incident brought fear to my family — especially during the holiday season. My young ones were in shock.”

Murdocco administered the first dose of Narcan in the victim’s nostril, but it had little effect. Broere loaded up a second, stronger dose and his partner tried the other nostril, completely emptying the syringe in one shot. The victim responded so well he was able to exit the car and put on his own jacket.

“This young man regained his life directly in front of everyone,” the witness wrote in a letter to Port Jefferson Village, discussing the buzz it stirred and pleading for proclamations to recognize the officers’ heroic efforts. “This truly was a holiday blessing. Although a tragedy, these officers saved a tragedy from becoming a parent’s worse nightmare.”

The constables were honored by Port Jefferson Village during a Jan. 3 board meeting for their actions that night. Code officers Michael Hanley and John Vinicombe, who arrived on the scene after Murdocco and Broere, were also recognized.

According to Murdocco, the officers are able to hear 911 calls made in the Port Jeff area, and are encouraged to respond to calls requiring immediate aid, oftentimes faster than Suffolk County police officers. He and his partner were in their patrol car when they heard the call, and planned to make their way to the scene, briefly waiting on the south side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks on Main Street as a train went through. While they waited, they encountered a  county police officer who was also headed to the scene, but who did not have the equipment or training to administer Narcan. Village constables are not required to undergo Narcan training, but they are encouraged to do so, and luckily, Murdocco and Broere voluntarily took the course on their own time.

“The chief and the deputy chief and the mayor did a really good job by pairing me and Jimmy up together.”

— Brent Broere

“These two officers were absolutely incredible,” the eyewitness said. “The officer that jumped into the car acted so fast that he had no protective gloves, and was exposed with the young man’s blood. Several neighbors asked to assist, yet he declined, and was able to clean out all of the areas exposed.”

According to accounts from both officers and an eyewitness, the scene was emotional and tense. Murdocco, who works in a state detention center in addition to his duties in Port Jeff, used the word “gruesome” to describe what he saw.

Broere, a Northport High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran in a scout sniper platoon, had been deployed on multiple combat tours and was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot through both of his legs. He returned to Long Island about six months ago after spending eight years in North Carolina working in various law enforcement capacities.

“The chief and the deputy chief and the mayor did a really good job by pairing me and Jimmy up together,” Broere said. “We’re a good match. As partners, we kind of know what the other one is thinking before he has to say it. In a situation like that seconds count.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

The use of Narcan is demonstrated on a dummy during a training class. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Jill Webb

For five years the Suffolk County Department of Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Project has been doing their part to help community members save lives. To commemorate the project’s fifth anniversary an Opioid Overdose Prevention class was held July 31 at the William J. Lindsay County Complex in Hauppauge.

The class trained participants in the essential steps to handling an opioid overdose: recognizing the overdose, administering intranasal Narcan, and what to do while the Emergency Medical Service teams are en-route. These training procedures meet the New York State Department of Health requirements, and at completion of the course, students received a certificate along with an emergency resuscitation kit, which contains the Narcan Nasal Spray.

Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is administered to reverse an opioid overdose, and has saved many lives. Before the project was put into place, only advanced Emergency Medical Services providers could administer Narcan to overdose victims.

“The No. 1 incentive is to receive a free Narcan kit,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, EMS medical director and clinical director of the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program, said. “That’s really the draw.”

He said the class appeals to many people in the field, such as nurses or treatment professionals.

AnnMarie Csorny, director of the department of health’s community mental hygiene services, said another motivation to take the class is “to be better informed, and to have a kit available on you that you would be able to use should you see someone. It doesn’t always have to be your loved one, it could be someone in the community.”

Starting in 2012, the department of health services’ division of emergency medical services has held more than 278 classes. Within this time, approximately 9,000 participants have learned how to recognize an opioid overdose and administer Narcan. Since its start, Narcan has saved the lives of over 3,000 individuals.

Those who have been trained in administering Narcan include EMTs, school district staff and opioid users themselves. The program has developed from how to handle an overdose into adding a discussion of opioid addiction.

“Initially it was just about recognizing signs and symptoms of overdose, how Naloxone is packaged, what it does, what it doesn’t do, what to expect when you administer it, and how to get a refill,” Pigott said.
Now, the program integrates treatment aspects along with prevention techniques.

“I don’t wanna say we just give them Narcan and say, ‘OK here’s how to give it out.’ Pigott said. “I’d like to give them a little bit more background on the epidemic and how we got to where we are, and resources. You have a lot of parents in there who are anxious that they have a son or daughter who is hooked on this stuff. They don’t just want Narcan, they want help for their son or daughter.”

Taking it a step further, in 2016 the county health department started to work with local hospitals to get Narcan kits to those who are at risk of an opioid overdose. They also help educate them along with their families on the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of an opioid overdose.

Suffolk County also operates, with the help of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a 24/7 substance abuse hotline at 631-979-1700. The line was established in April 2016 for crises, and has received 1,217 calls as of May 31.

On the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program’s impact, Csorny believes it’s a start to tackling a huge issue.

“I think it’s certainly opened the discussion of lines of communication,” Csorny said. “It has, I believe, empowered people to get the support they need and to talk about the things that are not there.”

While the program has educated hundreds of people, and saves many lives, Pigott knows more needs to be done in handling the opioid epidemic.

“I’m realizing that Narcan isn’t the answer,” Pigott said. “It’s a nice thing to say, ‘Hey I got a save, this person was turning blue, not breathing, and then I squirted the stuff up the nose and we got them back.’ But then on the backside of that, the person wakes up and they’re like, ‘Ugh, what just happened to me?’ and then all of a sudden withdrawal kicks in.”

Pigott said after the withdrawal kicks in the users will decide to get treatment or not to, and if they chose the latter they will most likely start using again — administrating Narcan isn’t going to change that.
“That’s the biggest problem we have: it’s a quick fix, and you’re really not fixing anything,” Pigott said. “It’s much more complicated than just giving out Narcan.”

The next step in handling the opioid epidemic, according to Pigott, is getting better treatment options. He said most of the county’s treatment programs are abstinence-based; detox programs in learning how to be drug-free.

“It might be effective at the time but once you’re out of the program it’s easy to get tempted, easy to relapse,” Pigott said. “I think treatment needs to be addressed more and I think there needs to be more options for people.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.

“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”

The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.

“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”

Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.

A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.

Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.

“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”

On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.

“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”

Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.

“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”

Drugs recovered thanks to tips from Crime Stoppers. File photo from SCPD

By Victoria Espinoza

The fight against substance abuse among young people on the North Shore and around Suffolk County is set to enter the 21st century.

Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) launched efforts for the county to develop a smartphone application at the June 20 legislative meeting that will provide users with quick and easy access to drug addiction services. It will also provide information on how to recognize and prevent opioid overdoses for families who are struggling with how to protect their loved ones.

“This mobile app will literally put life-saving information directly into the hands of those who need it most,” Gregory said at a press conference in Hauppauge last week. “There is a desperate need for instant access to addiction resources. Just a few weeks ago, 22 people over a two-day span overdosed on opioids in Suffolk. There are so many valuable resources and programs in our county, and we must do all we can to make it easier for those battling substance abuse to reach out for help.”

The app will provide locations of nearby hospitals and treatment centers, links to organizations and support hotlines and information on training to administer Narcan, an overdose reversal medication.

Gregory said he believes the app will be a worthwhile endeavor given the recent launch of New York City’s mobile app, Stop OD NYC, which provides overdose prevention education and connects individuals with local programs. According to his office, Suffolk officials are considering modeling Suffolk’s own app after the city’s version and have been in touch with city health officials as they look to develop the proposal request.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner James Tomarken said the addition of the app is another powerful weapon to use in the ongoing battle against drug addiction.

“Substance abuse affects everyone in the community,” he said at the event. “An application that consolidates information that can be accessed from anywhere on a mobile device offers one more tool in our toolkit for dealing with this public health crisis.”

Suffolk County Community Mental Hygiene Services Director Ann Marie Csorny agreed, saying this idea makes the most sense for the younger generation.

“Today’s youth have come to rely heavily on their smartphones, so putting substance abuse information into a format that is easily accessible to them makes sense,” she said.

Suffolk County is no stranger to the nation’s growing opioid problem. In 2014 Suffolk had the highest number of overdose deaths involving heroin of all New York counties and had the most overdose deaths where prescription opioids were a factor, according to a 2016 New York State Comptroller’s report.

Donna DiBiase, founder and executive director of A2R Magazine, a publication related to journeys in addiction and recovery said branching out to new platforms like cellphones are crucial to winning the fight.

“A mobile app of this nature could be a vital resource at a time when we are losing our next generation to this epidemic,” she said in a statement. “There isn’t a person that I meet who doesn’t know someone — a neighbor, a family member, a friend — who has been touched by this disease. Empowerment and education is so important, and we need to continue to find ways to get information to those who are struggling with addiction, whether it be through an app, a hotline or a magazine.”

The resolution was filed by Gregory at the June 20 meeting and will go before the Health Committee July 20.

Republicans Phil Boyle and Larry Zacarese and Democrat Dan Caroleo are running for Suffolk County sheriff. Photos from left, from Phil Boyle, Larry Zacarese and Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer

Three candidates are currently in the race to become Suffolk County sheriff this November. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-East Islip), career law enforcer Larry Zacarese (R), Boyle’s Republican primary challenger, and retired New York City police officer Dan Caroleo (D) are each hoping to inherit the position held for 12 years by Vincent DeMarco (R), who announced in May his decision not to seek a fourth term. He declined to comment on his decision.

Boyle, 55, of Bay Shore, who was elected to the New York Senate in November 2012 after serving 16 years as a state assemblyman, was endorsed for sheriff by the Suffolk Conservative Party in March and was backed by both the Republican and Independent parties soon after.

If elected, Boyle, a stepfather of two, said he wants to run the sheriff’s office in the most cost-effective manner possible, promote people based on merit rather than politics and halt the rise of drug overdoses and gang violence. He recently co-sponsored a bill to ban the sale of machetes to minors, the weapon of choice for MS-13 gang members.

The senator, who chaired and helped create the state Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction in 2013 to stamp out the growing drug problem, pointed to his active involvement pushing law enforcement issues in Albany as significant qualifiers.

Under the task force, 18 hearings were held across the state, which led to 11 prevention, treatment and enforcement measures passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

When it comes to immigration issues, Boyle said he disagrees with how DeMarco has run the jail.

“I work closely with federal immigration agents to make sure any individuals housed in the Suffolk County jail that agents may want to interact with due to immigration status have access to that,” Boyle said. “DeMarco, for a while, made the jail a sanctuary jail, in my opinion, and I’m definitely not going to allow that to happen.”

Zacarese, 43, of Kings Park, who is currently the assistant chief of  the Stony Brook University police, said he’s looking forward to the primary. Zacarese and his “army of volunteers” are currently gathering 2,000 signatures in order to run. Confident he’s not just another choice, but the better choice, for the top law enforcement job, Zacarese outlined his 25-year law enforcement career.

He started as a Holbrook volunteer fireman at 17, went to paramedic school, then began to work in the NYPD as a patrol officer, canine handler and tactical paramedic. He became a sergeant, then deputy chief fire instructor at the Suffolk County Fire Academy and an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Stony Brook University.

For four years, while working at Stony Brook by day, Zacarese pursued his shelved passion, attending law school by night. He is currently admitted to practice law in the state.

“My wife tells me I’m the biggest underachiever she knows,” the father of four said, laughing. “I’ve worked really hard rounding out all of the areas that are pertinent to the office of sheriff, which is much more than just the person who oversees the correctional facilities.”

He said, if elected, his main priority is the opioid crisis.

“We really need to take a better look at the prevention and collaboration between addiction programs and not-for-profits, as well as how we can influence treatment while people are being incarcerated,” he said. “It’s about [providing] help while they’re in jail so when they return to their communities, they have started on the path to recovery.”

Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Richard Schaffer, campaign manager for Caroleo, 62, of North Babylon, who was unavailable for comment, said the former New York City police officer, director of security at the North Babylon School District and current member of the district’s school board has, “a wealth of experience, he’s well-rounded and I think he can work cooperatively with, and continue, what County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, and DeMarco have laid out — making sure we continue to drive down jail population.”

According to Schaffer, “Caroleo feels he has a great deal of public safety experience” that he could bring to the sheriff’s department.

Police Commissioner Tim Sini and EMS Officer Jason Byron demonstrate how to administer Narcan. Photo by Kevin Redding.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini updated the community last week on the success of the department’s Ugly Truth program, a county-wide initiative designed to curb opioid use through community seminars that educate parents and teens, provide treatment options to help those in need of recovery, and shine a graphic light on what these drugs do to those who take them.

The commissioner and local officials took to West Islip Public Library Jan. 25 to champion the department’s Ugly Truth program.

“It’s very important that we recognize the problem, talk about the problem clearly and intelligently, and that we provide people with the tools necessary to get their lives back on track,” Sini said at the press conference that addressed what’s being done by the police to combat the county’s rising heroin and opiates problem.

Suffolk residents who attend the seminars also learn how to administer Narcan, the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an overdose and helped save well over 200 lives in 2016.

“It’s very important that we recognize the problem, talk about the problem clearly and intelligently, and that we provide people with the tools necessary to get their lives back on track.”

— Tim Sini

Sini said the epidemic has climbed in the past year, with upwards of 346 fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2016 as opposed to more than 270 fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2015.

“We need to be invested in solving this problem…there’s no silver bullet here, we need to fight it on all fronts: on the law enforcement front, on the prevention front, on the treatment front, and recovery front,” Sini said.

Since the Ugly Truth program launched in March 2015, with an emergency medical services unit and the medical examiner’s office, 41 forums have been held with a total 3,500 participants. Nearly 700 attendees were between the ages 14 and 17; more than 3,000 have been trained to administer Narcan and 2,400 Narcan kits have been distributed.

A segment of the forum, “Operation: Medicine Cabinet,” teaches parents to make sure prescription drugs are properly disposed of to prevent their kids from rummaging through and finding anything that might be harmful. People in recovery who’ve experienced substance abuse disorders are also brought in to talk about how their addiction has affected their lives and those around them, and resources geared toward combatting addiction, including the Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline number, are made available.

The Suffolk County Police Department has also partnered with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and other organizations to help overdose victims get treatment.

After an overdose, the department gives the victim’s contact information to LICADD and other organizations, which then reach out to the victim about recovery options. In 2016, SCPD provided LICADD with information on 221 overdose victims; 59 of those victims were successfully contacted, and 26 of them were involved in treatment. According to officials these statistics are improving every year.

“If we don’t get personal, families suffer personally and that’s what the Ugly Truth is about,” SCPD Deputy Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis said. “It’s to be thought of as a personal relationship with members of the bureau, communities, parents and families to say ‘we know you’re suffering, you may not even know what to look for, but we can help you stop this as soon as possible.’”

Officials said nothing hits attendees — especially young ones — harder than when medical examiners and medical experts from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services show slides of some of the devastating physical effects of substance abuse. These graphic images include a side-by-side comparison of a normal heart to a yellowing deteriorated heart and frothing from the mouth and nose as a result of leaky blood vessels in the lung, both caused by opioid use.

“While these pictures are not for shock value, we are trying to scare them [teenagers] a little bit and show them some of the things we actually see in the medical examiner’s office,” Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Caplan said. “I also want kids and families to know…it’s not just about the overdose; there are multiple other complications, diseases, and infections that can also be complications of addiction.”

“If we don’t get personal, families suffer personally and that’s what the Ugly Truth is about.”

— Risco Mention-Lewis

Sini and EMS Officer Jason Byron gave a brief demonstration of Narcan training that Ugly Truth program attendees receive. While the commissioner was quick to point out that Narcan doesn’t cure drug addiction and won’t wipe out the epidemic, he said it’s a step in the right direction.

“Each life we save with Narcan is a potential story of recovery,” he said. “It’s to be administered to the overdosing person as quickly as possible so they’re still alive when first responders arrive. If you administer Narcan, you must call 911 once the person is revived.”

Dr. Scott Coyne, chief police surgeon in the SCPD, has been instrumental in implementing Narcan in the department. He said he’s pleased with how successful it’s been so far.

“There’s just a dramatic number of people that are walking around now that would never have been walking around [without Narcan],” Coyne said. “Unfortunately there is a need for this. It’s a two-edged sword. It’s a great program, but it also points out the extent of the problem.”

The commissioner expressed optimism the prevention work of the program has been effective. Even though the county saw a record amount of deaths brought on by opioids in 2016, the average age of those overdosing is higher than it’s been in the past. He said it’s suggestive that the department’s awareness is getting through to young people.

“While the numbers don’t seem to be going down, there is that one silver lining,” Sini said. “This is a long-term investment that we need to be making. We’ve made a lot of progress on the treatment front. The next frontier has to be prevention and recovery. There has been a complete acceptance now that this is an epidemic that affects all communities, all races, and all demographics.”

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A victory was gained in the fight against opioid abuse this month, as the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a new bill that prohibits the sale and possession of U-47700, a highly addictive synthetic opioid drug.

“We must protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, graduation to heroin and potential death.” —Steve Stern

The pink pill contains fentanyl, another addictive and dangerous opioid, and is resistant to treatment with Narcan, a drug used to revive people who have overdosed.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) created the bill, which passed Oct. 5.

“We must do everything in our power to protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, serious health effects, graduation to heroin and potential death,” Stern said in a statement.

Stern’s office said U-47700 was originally developed by the pharmaceutical industry as an alternative to morphine but was never marketed when it was determined to be more than eight times as potent as morphine. The drug is manufactured overseas, mainly in China and is sold at a low cost on the internet, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It can be smoked, snorted or orally ingested and can cause respiratory depression, coma, permanent brain damage and death.  The DEA temporarily listed the drug on Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act in September because of the imminent hazard it presents to public safety.

Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, are not currently accepted for medical use in the U.S. and are deemed unsafe even under medical supervision. Other drugs in the Schedule I list include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Many states, including Georgia, Ohio and Wyoming, have banned the drug.

The DEA confirmed at least 15 fatalities from the use of U-47700, and according to news sources, at least 50 deaths nationwide can be linked to the drug.

According to the bill, any person who knowingly violates the law will be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year of imprisonment. The law goes into effect immediately after the Office of the Secretary of State files it.

The legislation to prohibit its sale was supported by the entire legislature, as well as Health Commissioner James Tomarken and Police Commissioner Tim Sini.

“I thank my colleagues on the Legislature for joining me in taking meaningful action to protect the health and safety of our communities,” Stern said.

Lit luminaires light up the night during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

It’s no time to pass the buck.

When it comes to the rising opioid abuse issue coursing through Long Island’s veins, we want to make sure we continue the open dialogue.

As you finish reading this edition, we hope you reflect on how this growing problem affects you, your family, your friends and everyone else around you — we can’t hide from this.

We need to take a more head-on approach to this medical issue, and accept that it is a medical problem, and not as some say a moral failing.

Parents shouldn’t let the stigma attached to drug or substance abuse keep them from talking about it. If we are to learn and grow and recover, we need to be talking. If we hide from the issue, the results will most certainly be fatal.

This is a problem that requires a collaborative effort, including prevention through education and early identification of at-risk people, enforcement with sharper penalties to dealers and prescription writers and improved rehabilitation resources and strategies. And as this issue should reflect, many groups on the North Shore are dedicated to working together to fight this crisis.

A cooperative combination of all of these things can help get Long Island headed in the right direction. Listed below are several resources if you or a loved one is struggling with substance or drug abuse.

• Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline: 631-979-1700

• Hope House Ministries: 631-978-0188

• Response of Suffolk County 24-hour hotline: 631-751-7500

• Prevention Resource Center: 631-650-0135

• Phoenix House’s Edward D. Miller substance abuse treatment center: 844-296-9046

• Samaritan Village’s Suffolk Outpatient Treatment Program: 631-351-7112

• St. Charles Hospital rehab program: 631-474-6233

• New York State HOPEline: 1-877-8-HOPENY

Suffolk County Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services: 631-853-8500

Visit http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/substanceabuse for a downloadable prevention, treatment and recovery services directory, which gives a list of service agencies and treatment centers on Long Island.

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