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Town Topics: By Supervisor Jon Kaiman

Tackling a Growing Problem at the Root

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

What I mean by that is this: Most every event or development that unfolds in society is somehow, someway connected.

Take, for instance, the recent news about an initiative Suffolk County law enforcement officials launched to try to rein in the alarming increase in heroin use among Long Island youth. The anti-heroin initiative, part of the county’s Police Department’s PoliceSmart program, includes visits to Suffolk schools. Among other things, it features graphic images depicting the real lives of heroin users.

As well as paying students $500 for tips that lead to the arrest of drug dealers, the initiative also allows schools with “reasonable suspicion” of drugs in its buildings to request a search by police drug-sniffing dogs.

Unfortunately, it’s come down to this.

But addiction experts are making the connection between this heroin epidemic and another insidious trend among our youth: the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

According to studies by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, every day, more than 2,500 teenagers abuse prescription medication for the first time. Moreover, surveys conducted by the federal government show that 12- to 17-year-olds abuse prescription drugs more than they abuse ecstasy, crack/cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. Prescription drug abuse by teens is exceeded only by marijuana use. Sixty percent of teens who have abused prescription painkillers did so before age 15.

With the benefit of hindsight, we are now discovering that the abuse of prescription drugs is the gateway to more potent drugs like heroin.

This is where I believe that leaders in government can play a critical role in helping to get prescription drugs like painkillers out of the hands of our youth.

Cognizant of the increasing unease about prescription drug abuse by teens, the Town of North Hempstead instituted the first collection event in Nassau County in June.

It was a smashing success, thanks in great part to the Nassau County Police Department and a slew of volunteers who partnered with us.

It was so successful in fact we decided to partner with County Executive Tom Suozzi and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey to organize a joint pharmaceutical disposal event in September.

The joint undertaking, held at Tulley Park in North Hempstead and at each of the Nassau County Police Department’s eight precincts was more successful than we could have imagined, yielding a combined 600 pounds of unwanted and outdated medication.

Considering the potential impact, it’s virtually a no-brainer.

While such an event costs taxpayers very little, the payback of keeping painkillers and other pharmaceutical drugs away from our children and possibly steering them away from becoming a statistic in this growing heroin addiction epidemic is priceless.

We all have a responsibility to tackle this growing problem at the root.