WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – The growing epidemic involving prescription pain medication and heroin was addressed by several experts this week at a heavily attended forum in Chappaqua.
The gathering on Tuesday night, April 29, which took place at the Chappaqua Library and went on for about two and a half hours, included information on why the epidemic is happening and about the rise in overdose deaths.
One of the speakers, Detective Will Mauro from the Westchester County Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Unit, mentioned the increase in overdose deaths and arrests. In 2011, there were 39 such deaths in Westchester, a number that jumped to 74 in 2012. During the latter year, according to Mauro, there were 187 arrests, a number that went up to 235 for 2013. Mauro mentioned that the number for this year so far is 114.
Mauro’s talk also included slideshow photos showing bags that contain heroin, which can include specialized stamps. He also showed photos of people accused of drug dealing.
The detective, who has been involved in narcotics investigations since 2007, also brought up collaboration between county and local law enforcement, mentioning a task force that they are involved with. He also stressed the importance of having informants and gave out the county’s TIPS hotline, 914-741-4334.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who is chief medical officer for Phoenix House, discussed the origin of the epidemic and its severity. Both heroin and painkillers are from the opium poppy, he explained, noting the similar effect that each has. Kolodny also explained how users have been switching from opioid painkillers to heroin due to the low cost and accessibility.
The doctor talked about the demographic composition of the users, based on data mentioned. The addiction, according to the information provided, has primarily affected white people.
“It is striking how white this epidemic is,” Kolodny said. Additionally, younger people, specifically in ages 20-34, have been hard hit, according to the doctor’s presentation.
Kolodny believes that the epidemic began in 1996, which was also the year that consumption started to noticeably increase and when the opioid drug Oxycontin was launched. He also mentioned that this was when the medical community began aggressively prescribing opioids. Kolodny blames a drug company campaign in which the argument was that opioid addiction was rare.
There was also a contention that addiction and physical dependence were being confused, according to Kolodny. Opioid medication has been geared towards chronic pain, it was noted.
The doctor discussed ways to combat the epidemic, including more cautious prescribing – he believes that opioid pain medication is still acceptable for cases such as acute pain and easing suffering at the end of life – controlling the supply and for people to have access to effective treatment.
Jim Smith, the event’s moderator, discussed prevalence in his introduction remarks.
“It's across the world,” he said.
Smith also touched on the economic relationship.
“It's no longer a thing from the poor neighborhoods,” he said.
Tara Rosenblum, an anchor for News 12 who was one of the speakers, talked about her channel’s “Hooked on Heroin” series, which deals with usage in the Hudson Valley. A clip from the series was played to the audience. It featured a Peekskill police officer giving his insights, including the use of an old-age home for dealing and the involvement of grandchildren.
Several who attended the forum spoke during a subsequent panel discussion. They included Nan Miller and Melvin Berger of Mount Kisco Partners in Prevention, Kathryn Valencia of the Lexington Center for Recovery and two men who have experienced addiction.
Check back for a second story about the forum, including collaboration with local judges and discussion from people who have been addicted.