Rockland County: Part of “A Nation of Drugs”

Task force warns community about prescription drug abuse “epidemic”

BY SARA GILBERT

On Thursday, May 10, The District Attorney’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, along with several other organizations, held a symposium at Rockland Community College to address what some are calling “an epidemic.”

About 20 or 25 years ago, cocaine and crack were the “drugs of choice,” said Director Chris Goldrick of the Drug Task Force. “Now the popular drug is prescription pills and it’s a rapidly growing phenomenon.”

Children who are too young to even get fake identification to buy alcohol are able to get their hands on prescription painkillers because they find them in the medicine cabinet.

“These drugs must be locked up in your home just like you would a firearm, not left open for children and teens to find,” said Goldrick.

The symposium, held in the RCC’s Ellipse Room, offered open sessions to the community at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. The goal of the sessions was to educate everyone about highly addictive prescription drugs, offer safety and preventative steps, offer ways to seek help if needed and share what Rockland is currently doing about this problem.

“It’s hard to find a family that’s not been affected by this,” said Susan Maher, co-founder of South Orangetown Community Awareness of Substance Abuse, more commonly known as SOCASA. “It’s becoming more and more common for teens to be abusing prescription drugs and heroin is not that far off from some of these strong painkillers.”

According to Vickie Shaw, the other founder of SOCASA, “The D.A. feels very strongly that what we need is to bring all aspects involved together. Get the medical departments, doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement and family members all on the same page.”

This symposium was a step in that direction. There to educate about the different drugs was Dr. Michael E. Rader, Nyack Hospital’s vice president and medical director.

“We are a nation of drugs,” Rader said. “We take drugs for everything and it’s not a new phenomenon.”

Rader gave a brief history of medicine including facts like “What did Coca Cola once have in it that helped make it so popular? That’s right, cocaine.”

Unlike most prescription medicine we take, painkillers have an affect on the brain that in highly addictive. When these drugs are abused enough, the dopamine receptors that trigger happiness no longer work the way they should and after awhile it’s impossible to be happy without the drug. Once someone is addicted, said Rader, behavior changes may include: abusing those close to you, not being able to focus or work, neglecting hygiene, and generally losing control of everything that was once important in one’s life.

“What happens when these addicts really need their fix?” asked Rader. “We get people out committing crimes in order to get what they need, money for more drugs.”

According to Sheriff Lou Falco, one Oxycodone pill can sell for up to $90 on the streets. The habit might start with an occasional recreational pill at a party and soon it’s more frequent. It becomes an expensive habit quickly, especially as the individual needs more to get high. And because it’s too expensive to keep up for long, heroin for $5 a bag becomes the answer.

“Please keep your eyes and ears open,” requests Falco, who started a program called Operation Medicine Cabinet where the police department gathers and discards pills and syringes that are no longer needed from residents in the hopes that they don’t end up in the wrong hands.

To conclude the program, Anne Calajoe of Treatment Services in Rockland spoke about the steps to getting help.

“Get professional help as soon as possible,” Calajoe said. “You can’t control the addiction once it takes over. And we’re lucky that there are so many resources, hospitals, clinics and programs that we can intervene at so many levels.”

To find out more about how to discharge old medications or syringes, call the Sheriff’s office 845-638-5401.