I spent years coaching young people in our community and I saw them at their best – hardworking, dedicated, talented.
It would break my heart years later when word got back to me about a young person I coached who was lost to drugs or alcohol.
Over the past couple of years I’ve heard all too often about a youngster – adult now – who got hooked on prescription pain medication. Then heroin.
It can happen in any family, in any neighborhood.
Too many of our children, our neighbors, our friends have been lost to the opioid epidemic.
Now Rockland County is fighting back on two fronts: one legal and the other lifesaving.
On the legal front: Who created this mess? Fingers point to the pharmaceutical industry, which was less than truthful or careful in its marketing of pain pills, the first step in a downward spiral that leads to addiction.
Several counties in New York, including Suffolk, Broome and Erie, have filed lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies responsible for making it so easy for people to get hooked on these highly addictive pain pills. Rockland County is now evaluating law firms and plans to join one of these legal actions.
These corporations have done something that has resulted in injury to the people of this county, as well as the state and nation. They need to take some responsibility and fix what they broke.
That’s not to say that there is not an element of personal responsibly in this deadly opioid epidemic.
Clearly there is. But these big companies should not make it so easy to abuse their very addictive products. And physicians have started to recognize that they need to prescribe these medications judiciously.
We have all learned the hard way that overprescribing these medications can lead to tragedy. To combat that issue, we participate in Drug Take Back events where residents can safely dispose of prescription drugs.
The second front involves equipping people to step in and save the life of a person in the throes of an opioid overdose.
Narcan, also known by its generic name, naloxone, is an opiate antidote that can reverse the effects of opioids, including heroin and prescription pain pills. If administered fast enough, it can literally bring back to life a person who has overdosed on pain killers or heroin.
In April, the county held its first Narcan training session for the community, which was organized by Rockland County Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Leitzes. Nearly 100 people took part and were taught how to use the nasal spray to treat an overdose.
In fact, this training was so successful and so well-received that we have scheduled another – this one aimed at the Haitian community.
We will be at Konbit Nèg Lakay, 16 E. Church St., Spring Valley at 5:30 p.m., June 14 to do the training and to distribute free rescue kits. Anyone is welcome to join. Registration is required. Please call 845-425-4623.
We are also planning additional training sessions for the Jewish community as well as the Spanish-speaking community.
We know that all across this country, people are dying from opioid abuse.
In 2015, there were 31 drug-related deaths, according to the Rockland County Medical Examiner. Most of them – 25 – were opioid related.
In 2016, there were 40 drug-related deaths. Almost all – 37 – were opioid related.
Last year, Rockland police agencies and paramedics administered Narcan 54 times. That’s more than once a week.
The youngest patient was 19. The oldest was 70. Most were in their 20s. A lot of those patients were saved. But some died of an overdose.
Remember, addiction does not discriminate. It is ruthless in its march across our county, our state and our nation.
Rockland County is fighting back before the opioid epidemic steals any more of our friends, family or neighbors.