By Erin Maher
An expert panel consisting of health and law enforcement professionals gathered at White Plains High School auditorium last Thursday to educate the public about Westchester County’s rapidly growing opioid epidemic.
“I saw the ravages that opioids bring to individuals and the community as a whole,” White Plains Mayor Tom Roach said in his opening remarks for the “Change the Conversation: A Panel Discussion on Opioids in Our Community” forum sponsored by White Plains Hospital.
Roach was joined by panelists from White Plains Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Westchester County administrators and the White Plains Police Department, who shared awareness, prevention tactics and opioid addiction services offered by White Plains and the county.
According to Westchester County Commissioner of Health Sherlita Amler, Westchester County has seen a dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths.
In the past eight years, opioid-related deaths have almost quadrupled in Westchester County, rising from 27 deaths in 2010 to 124 in 2016.
2018 has already seen six opioid-related deaths in White Plains alone, according to panelist Christina Spano, City of White Plains Detective.
Nine out of ten opioid-related deaths are caucasian people, with men more likely to die from opioids than women.
According to Dr. Richard Ellsasser, Director of Psychiatry at White Plains Hospital, 215 million prescriptions are written every year, which equates to one prescription per person in the United States. Sixty percent of patients do not finish a prescription, and therein is where the problems begin.
Addicts most often get opioids from friends or family.
To combat the excess drugs, Ellsasser suggests to first question the doctor about any prescription written, why a particular medication is prescribed, why that specific amount and if there are any alternatives other than an opioid.
Any leftover pills should be disposed of immediately. White Plains Police Department offers a program for drug disposal. There is a drop box located in the lower level of the police station on 77 South Lexington Ave. where residents can dispose of leftover drugs.
Residents can also schedule an at-home pick-up, where members of the police department will visit a home and retrieve the excess drugs for those who require assistance or cannot drive. This service is available every other Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.
The WPPD also offers what is known as the Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery Program, also known as CLEAR.
CLEAR is a program that allows anyone struggling with addiction to walk into WPPD with any drugs, and be granted amnesty as they start their first step on the road to recovery.
White Plains Hospital has seen a rise in the use of Narcan kits, which are used to treat opioid overdoses. In 2015, the hospital began to offer free Narcan training for the public. To date, more than 2,700 community members and 1,000 police are Narcane trained in Westchester County.
The Westchester County Department of Health and the City of White Plains will be holding their next free public training on how to respond to an opioid overdose on April 23 at the White Plains Library.
“In public health, we believe that prevention is better than treatment,” said Amler.
For more information or to call for help, visit the White Plains Police Department or call 914-422-6111.
To register for the next Community Opioid Overdose Training, visit www.westchestergov.com/health or call the Division of Health Promotion at 914-995-6584.