Rockland peers into the opioid abyss

January 25 seminar brings community leaders, health experts and addicts together

OP-ED BY OLEG KHAGHANI

In Rockland County there were 35 deaths from an Opioid overdose in 2016, which is an 875 percent increase in the last decade according to statistics kept by the NY State Department of Health, and these numbers continue to climb and are expected to be drastically higher when the 2017 statistics for this epidemic are counted. As these numbers show this current war against drugs is the biggest that Rockland and the rest of the nation has witnessed in history, and it continues to grow at an alarming rate. Many have come to believe that it by far surpasses even the crack/cocaine epidemic of the 1980s era.

In response to this ongoing Opioid / Heroin pandemic that has plagued our land, Westchester Medical Center, along with the leadership of Rockland County sponsored a seminar called “Opioid Addiction in Rockland County & the Hudson Valley” at Good Samaritan Hospital last Thursday January 25th. This conference was one of several that will be taking place around the mid-Hudson region over the next few months open to the public, as well as to the professionals in the field of addictions. They have been designed to inform the public of the many facts and dangers surrounding the current Opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of individuals around the nation, including hundreds in the Rockland area, and for devising solutions in response.

The conference began with keynote speaker Ed Day, Rockland’s Executive, addressing the audience on the latest statistics in this matter. He emphasized that this war on drugs must take top priority at all levels of government and all other treatment agencies, both public and private; that in order to win this battle everyone must be willing to work together as a nation united against it. Day also mentioned the current pro-active stand that he and his government, including the county D.A., Mr. Tom Zugibe have taken in this effort; that although the D.A. is a prosecutor who is tough on crime, he understands the grave nature of the disease of addiction and as such promotes treatment as an alternative measure to punishment.

 Mr. Day also spoke of the difficulties that exist in this fight against substance abuse due to a lack of a solid integration between the two fields of Chemical Dependency treatment and the office of mental health in general. Chemical Dependency is a Disease of the physical brain, as listed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and as such must be treated accordingly. In addition, many addicts also are afflicted with various other mental health conditions, and must be treated for these in conjunction with their problems of chemical dependency if they are to maintain prolonged sobriety. Because the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse are two separate agencies, many times those who suffer from both conditions are not treated properly, and therefore continue to relapse in their addictions. This coming together of the two agencies, said Mr. Day, must be one of the main goals of the current efforts in Drug Abuse treatment and the current drug war.

Following the County Executive, those who spoke to the crowd were Mr. Ken Goldberg, whose son, Kyle Goldberg, passed away from an overdose in 2004. Kyle, who was a bright and energetic, student as well as a star athlete, became a victim of the disease of addiction after having been prescribed certain prescription medications with an addictive nature, which ultimately resulted in him becoming addicted to Opioids.  Stories such as Kyle’s, where prescription medications lead to people becoming addicted are, unfortunately, far too many. As a result of this sad event which has become so typical over the course of the new century where so many young people have become victimized by the disease of addiction, the Goldbergs have created the Kyle Goldberg Foundation which works with several other entities such as the Westchester Medical Center to bring an end to the nation’s opioid crisis. Those interested in helping to fight this war can make direct donations to this Foundations.

To end the seminar Dr. Gail Bail-Wallace spoke on the many aspects of the perils of drug abuse and the Opioid epidemic, and offered several solutions as well as various methods which the medical and government agencies have adopted in this battle. She, along with other dignitaries from Rockland’s government including family court judge Eisenpress, then spoke to the audience as a panel and answered many of the questions which the crowd presented. Following this session the crowd gathered after lunch to be trained in the use of Narcan. Narcan, an opioid antagonist is a medicine that is used to save the life of anyone who has overdosed on any substance containing opioids, and is now available without a prescription to the public, and as part of the ongoing war against the opioid/heroin epidemic, all first response officials in Rockland are trained in its use and carry Narcan kits.