By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
I spent a few hours this week visiting Rockland County’s Regional Investigative Resource Center, a new facility under the auspices of our District Attorney Tom Zugibe. Staffed with an expert team of crime analysts and sworn law enforcement members, the RIRC is a collaborative effort that brings together local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in one, state-of-the-art location.
The RIRC’s shared services environment allows investigators to effectively utilize the latest intelligence and technology to identify crime patterns, trends, suspects and illegal activity in all of our towns and villages. It’s truly an amazing operation that saves lives – and, taxpayer dollars.
The primary focus of investigations run through the RIRC is organized criminal activity, including the sale and trafficking of drugs in our communities. While Rockland County is among the safest in the nation, we are not immune to the scourge of illegal narcotics and related offenses. Specifically, heroin and opioid-based addictions are overtaking many in our community and challenging us to come together to tackle this threat. The RIRC is one big weapon in our County’s battle against this epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-million Americans abuse prescription drugs. Overdose involving medications and other substances of abuse is the number one cause of injury-related death in the U.S., with an estimated 120 people dying every day.
In 2015, Rockland County recorded more than 300 drug overdoses. Heroin and prescription drugs, like Xanax, were the prime suspects in the majority of those overdoses – and in all 11 of the fatal ones. We’ve also seen an alarming increase in deaths related to a form of heroin that is laced with Fentanyl, a potent narcotic used during surgeries.
The burden of dealing with the heroin crisis has fallen largely on the shoulders of law enforcement officials. Despite limited resources, our police agencies and community partners continue to do everything possible to keep our families safe from the fallout.
Sadly, our region’s heroin problem is so large, the arrest and prosecution of dealers and users is simply inadequate to reduce the consumer demand underlying the epidemic. Most people suffering from substance use disorders need treatment and rehabilitation.
Eighteen months ago, I stood with District Attorney Zugibe to announce a realistic community action plan to fight the heroin problem. The plan involved three specific areas: targeted enforcement, treatment and prevention/education. Since then, I’m pleased to say the RIRC has identified dozens of users and dealers and dismantled several major drug supply chains preying on our communities.
We all agree that education is a major component to any successful strategy in the fight against drugs. Our teens and young people are particularly vulnerable to drug experimentation, which is the first step toward abuse. To help bring awareness to this deadly issue, local school administrators have incorporated information, specifically on heroin and prescription pill abuse, into high school and middle school health class curriculum.
Prosecutors and police have also taken part in special forums for families – parents and their children. Our law enforcement and health professionals highlighted how these drugs make their way into our community and how they are working to stop this poison in our environment.
I served as a New York City police officer during the height of the Big Apple’s cocaine and crack epidemic. What we found is that we could not arrest our way out of the 80’s addiction crisis. The same holds true today with heroin and prescription drugs in our county.
Let’s not ignore it: The heroin epidemic is impacting all of Rockland County. It’s impacting wealthy families and poor families. It knows no boundaries. It’s critical that every level of government work together with treatment experts and schools to reverse the trend and improve health and public safety in our neighborhoods. We need to treat the users and get the sellers out of our community.
I commend District Attorney Zugibe, Drug Task Force Director Chris Goldrick and our local law enforcement partners for sharing resources inside the Regional Investigative Resource Center. Cooperation is the key to fighting the resurgence of heroin.
All around us, energized and determined public officials, emergency responders, health providers, nonprofit agencies and educators are coming together in an all-hands-on-deck approach to ending this crisis, mobilizing action at the local, state and federal levels. Please know that Rockland County is taking innovative and firm steps to keep our safety and quality of life among the best in the nation.