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From the Desk of The Nassau County Executive: February 2, 2012

Continuing the Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse

The collective efforts of local committees and task forces, who are combating the potentially deadly prescription drug abuse crisis, provides me with confidence that we can stop the abuse of pharmaceuticals.

There has been an alarming increase of deadly pharmacy robberies nationwide and it is imperative not to lose sight that a key cause of this problem is chemical dependency addiction.

This type of addiction can make people who otherwise would never behave in this manner, do unspeakable things to get their next fix. While chemical dependency abuse is a disease of addiction, it can be treated and people do recover.

Decreasing access to illicit substances by strengthening laws that make it harder for addicted individuals to fill forged prescriptions or to get an abundance of prescription drugs will help. However, addicted persons will not stop seeking drugs merely because their local pharmacy stops filling their prescriptions. The recent tragedies in Medford and Seaford are examples of the desperate measures that an addicted person may take to obtain a substance that will decrease their craving or help them achieve the state of euphoria they are seeking.

In too many cases, when their prescription drug supply dwindles, those who are addicted are often times turning to heroin because it is cheaper and often easier to get. This leads to increased risk for overdose or for contracting HIV or Hepatitis C, because the heroin is frequently taken intravenously.

The opioid abuse epidemic in Nassau County, which is evidenced by the fact that there were approximately 100 deaths attributable to opioid abuse in year 2011, makes it imperative that those in need have easy access to a range of inpatient and outpatient treatment options; as it is important for addicted individuals to know that help is available and that recovery from the disease of addiction is possible.

We also have to be mindful of the fact that rates for substance dependence were far higher for those who had experienced any mental illness in the past year. As reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, adults experiencing mental illness in the past year were three to four times as likely to have met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse as those who had not experienced mental illness in the past year. In addition, the report finds that young people aged 12 to 17 who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year had more than twice the rate of illicit drug use.

There is, however, reason to be hopeful, and there are treatment options. Within Nassau County there are numerous chemical dependency and mental health treatment programs that can help. This includes the county-run Opiate Treatment Program, which is currently accepting new referrals. There is also Narcotics Anonymous (NA): It is free and has a great track record of successful recovery for thousands of individuals; there are hundreds of NA meetings around Nassau County each week.

For the young people who undoubtedly will be asked at some point whether they want to try a drug or to get high, it is vital to continue to educate residents about the dangers of these drugs – including those that can be found in family members’ medicine cabinets. These prescription drugs kill. Young people need early education about the consequences of substance abuse and need to learn the tools to make healthy choices.

Under my direction, Nassau County police officers will continue to go into schools and speak to students about the dangers of prescription drugs. Additionally, members of the Nassau County Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Committee will continue to make parents aware of the signs of drug abuse and addiction in their children, and inform them that it does not usually start with pills, but rather with alcohol and marijuana. The county will also continue to offer appropriate times and locations for people to dispose of unused medications to ensure that they do not end up in the hands of children.

While addiction is treatable, substance abuse is preventable. It is of the utmost importance to keep up the fight through education, prevention and awareness.