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Hudson Valley News

Maloney: Start The School Year Swinging Against Heroin/Opioid Use

Needle used for Heroin

As students head back to the classroom, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to start the school year swinging in the fight against heroin and opioid abuse in the Hudson Valley. He is urging parents, teachers, coaches and community members to work together.

Democratic Congressman Maloney finds the statistics alarming.

“In a report by the New York State Health Department shows that opioid-related deaths have risen 47 percent in New York between 2010 and 2014,” Maloney says.

Fueled, he says, by heroin use.

“A report by the New York State Comptroller’s office found that overdose deaths in New York in which heroin was a factor hit a record of 825 in 2014 alone,” Maloney says. “That’s a 24 percent increase in one year, from the numbers in 2013.”

And drilling down to one spot in the Hudson Valley:

“Seventy-six people have died from heroin or prescription opioid overdoses in Orange County alone in 2014 alone,” says Maloney.

Speaking on a conference call Thursday, Maloney says that gives Orange County the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of heroin overdose deaths in 2014 of 21 counties in New York for which rates were calculated.

“Whoever thought that heroin would be in my family,” Salomone says. “It was so far afield that the stigma associated with it is so huge that we were afraid to even call treatment facilities.”

That’s Susan Salomone, executive director of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, a community organization in Carmel, in Putnam County, that helps individuals and families struggling with drug addiction. Salomone started the nonprofit in 2012 with another woman after the deaths of their sons. Salomone says her group has developed a new program for schools.

“And it’s for kids in middle school and high school that might get in trouble in schools and the schools don’t know what to do about it. So was have a three-hour prevention education class that involved the parents. It’s a curriculum we developed about substance-use disorder and the risks involved, the risk factors and the protective factors that the parents could use,” Salomone says. “So we’re separating the kids from the parents and teaching them separately and then we’re bringing them back together to do an action plan that they can use. It’ll be a solid plan that the parents will have because the parents don’t know what to do. They really are at a loss, and I understand that.”

Deborah Hersman is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

“We know that 80 percent of new heroin users start on prescription painkillers. And we also know that three out of four people get their drugs from their friends or family members,” Hersman says. “So parents should be on the lookout for kids or their friends who are stealing prescriptions, if they’re taking medications, if they run out of medicine early.”

She says other things to look for in heroin and opioid abusers include mood swings, weight gain or loss, truancy, lethargy, loss of interest in extracurricular activities, missing spoons — as spoons can be used to cook heroin — and wearing long sleeves in warm weather to hide track marks.

“We now see more people dying as a result of overdoses and poisonings than we do in car crashes. And that’s something that hasn’t happened since World War II. We’ve always seen car crashes being the leading cause of unintentional deaths,” Hersman says. “So this is really a national epidemic that we need to be paying attention to.”

Meanwhile, Maloney says he has been working on a number of pieces of legislation. In March, he introduced a bill to provide law enforcement the option to divert individuals directly to treatment instead of booking them and processing them through the criminal justice system.

“It would actually create grant programs through the Department of Justice to help law enforcement agencies move down this exciting road where law enforcement officers have the discretion, and that’s very important, the officer has the discretion because they often know the street-level addict and they can have the discretion to send them directly to treatment,” Maloney says. “And we know this is working. And now more than, I believe, 120 police departments around the country are doing programs like the ones that have worked so well in Seattle and Gloucester [MA.], several right in our own state of New York. We want to scale that up and support it at the federal level. That’s what my bill called the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act would do.”

Maloney co-sponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that Congress passed in July. The bill creates investment programs for local communities facing prescription drug epidemics to expand prevention and education efforts, increase the availability of naloxone, and promote treatment and recovery. Maloney also has a new community resource guide on his house website.   

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