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Nassau County Unveils Task Force Initiatives

Nassau parents recall family tragedies

At a press conference last week, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano unveiled the results of a year-long work by the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, one that the county executive said was unique to New York State and one that he vowed would help to win the declared war on prescription drug abuse.

Mangano was joined by several members of the task force, plus State Assemblymen David G. McDonough (R – Bellmore) and Joseph Saladino (R – Massapequa). But the drama of the press conference was when parents of young people who lost their lives to substance overdose made their appeals.

Donna Hickey is a Long Island resident who has suffered a double tragedy. On Sept. 11, 2001, her husband, Brian, a first responder, died while performing rescue services at the World Trade Center. A decade later, on Christmas Eve 2011, her son, Dennis died after an apparent overdose.

“I wish these initiatives had been in existence years ago,” Ms. Hickey told those assembled at the news conference. “I’m glad it is around now.”

Ms. Hickey further called the availability of prescription drugs “a real sin.” She recalled the trying times mother and son spent in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

“My son would say to me: ‘Do you think I want to be an addict?’” Ms. Hickey said, adding that her son would often declare: “If I get up and brush my teeth and make my bed, it’s a good day.”

Ms. Hickey told further of her son’s journey through rehabilitation centers, hospitals and the county court system, but she continued to express her hopes for the task force initiatives.

“If we can save just one child [through] this thing, it’s worth it.”

Teri Kroll, another parent who has survived the loss of a son is a former member of the task force, work she undertook, as she termed it, “to exorcise my grief” over losing her son Tim, but also to see that the county makes the necessary changes in combating prescription drug abuse.

“I am not the first parent to lose a son to drug addiction,” Ms. Kroll said, “but hopefully I can be one of the last.”

A visibly moved Mangano praised both the courage of Ms. Hickey and Ms. Kroll for both addressing the subject in public and for helping to save lives.

Calling it a “war we can—-and will win,” Mangano and other speakers emphasized education and public awareness as cornerstones to the offensive. He said the 119 deaths due last year to prescription drug overdose were “most unintentional and accidental.” Toward that end, the county unveiled a public service announcement, while declaring that it will mount public awareness campaigns to students still in grade school and middle schools.

Mangano also noted that prescription drug addictions often begin when young people take such substances from their parents or their neighbors’ cabinets. Mangano also called on parents to dispose of unused pain medication immediately, something similar to the “Shed the Meds” campaign held by State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R – Merrick) and other politicians, events that the county hopes to hold more often.

Assemblyman Saladino praised the passage of the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (I-STOP) legislation, while promising to introduce more legislation in the winter session. He also praised the county for “setting the standard for the nation” on reducing substance abuse. Speakers expressed optimism that such initiatives have already saved lives and the county touted the increase in heroin-related arrests from 228 in 2011 to 241 this year.

Meanwhile, task force member, Dr. Larry Eisenstein addressed the issue of physicians and the over-proscription of prescription drugs. Dr. Eisenstein denounced those physicians who have been convicted with over-prescription as “criminals, not doctors” and said they were only a small minority of the medical ranks on Long Island. Part of the task force’s recommendations includes urging medical professions to secure their prescription pads “so they don’t wind up in the wrong hands.”

Mangano’s office listed other task force initiatives: Awareness of untreated mental illness affecting people with drug addictions; incorporating 12-step literature and philosophy into the county’s drug abuse recovery efforts and holding public hearings with stakeholders in various committees. The task force also called on the state assembly to approve more legislation, including toughening sentencing guidelines for drug-diversion programs; requiring insurance companies to provide basic coverage for substance abuse treatment and requiring people to present photo ID when picking up a controlled substance at pharmacies. In addition to I-STOP, other legislation signed into law; the state assembly has approved the reclassification of the drug Vicodin to make it more restrictive, mandatory continuing education and training for practitioners and pharmacists on the dangers of the misuse of prescription pain medication.