The Putnam Examiner

Murphy, Local Leaders Work to Get Grip on Drug Epidemic

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By Rick Pezzullo

Elected officials, community leaders and law enforcement personnel joined together last week to discuss strategies on how to curb the heroin and opioid addiction epidemic that is destroying and claiming lives at an alarming rate in Westchester and Putnam counties.

“The problem that we’re dealing with is an epidemic of Americans becoming addicted to opioids,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer for Phoenix House, an independent nonprofit organization that is the nation’s leading provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention services operating more than 130 programs for over 6,000 men, women and adolescents in nine states, including a facility in Shrub Oak.

“The way you end an epidemic is to contain it,” Kolodny stressed. “We need to prevent new people from developing opioid addiction.”

Kolodny was one of about a dozen experts who testified at the first of a series of hearings planned by the New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, co-chaired by Senator Terrence Murphy (R/Yorktown), who was joined last Thursday at Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown by fellow Senator Jack Martins (R/Long Island).

“This drug has no religion, it has no race, it has no ethnicity. It will grab you and shake you down,” Murphy remarked. “It’s not a needle in the arm any more. It’s a pill you can take. The numbers are absolutely staggering. More of this conversation has to be had with our kids.”

Last year, in Westchester and Dutchess, Murphy said heroin and opioids contributed to at least one death a week. Deaths from drug abuse outnumbered homicides.

“These overdoses are happening every day. It’s time we start waking up,” Martins said. “It starts with us looking in the mirror and realizing it’s happening in our backyards. It knows no boundaries. Perfect families, broken families. Nobody is immune.”

Mahopac resident Steve Salomone, whose son Justin died in 2012 at the age of 29 after struggling with an addiction for 10 years, said he learned of how many families were dealing with a loved one in the same predicament as Justin after he and his wife started the organization Drug Crisis In Our Backyard.

“The common denominator was the shame and fear of coming out because of the stigma of the addiction,” Salomone said. “It blindsides you. We need to let the common citizen know it’s not the other family, it’s them. A cultural change is in order. If we don’t change the culture of young people we may never get ahead of the problem.”

Westchester County Police began a Narcotics Initiative in 2014 with seven municipalities in northern Westchester that has resulted in 125 people arrested for selling heroin.

“No community is immune. This is everybody’s problem,” said Westchester Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth.

In Putnam, Drug Court Judge James Reitz has run a drug treatment program that started with 15 cases nine years ago and now averages 110 cases, with about 50 others on a waiting list.

“This is the first time in my nine years that this has been taken seriously,” Reitz said. “You need tough love and people dedicated to changing lives and we do that one person at a time. There’s nobody safe. There’s nobody secure. Heroin is very inexpensive and easy to get. Working together we will solve this problem.”

Besides drug dealers, Kolodny said well-intentioned doctors and dentists needed to be more responsible in only prescribing medication for limited use to prevent individuals from becoming hooked. He mentioned 21 million prescriptions for opioids were written in 2011 in New York State for a population of only 19 million.

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