Opioid Epidemic Rages in Westchester County

by Samuel Lessem


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than
11 million Americans misure prescription opioids.
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Norris, via Flickr.com)

It can start simply; with a normal fall or twisted ankle you go to the ER and get handed a prescription for a painkiller. Nothing out of the ordinary with that.

But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it requires long and sustained doses of pain medication, that after months of being on, cause that individual to become addicted.

The opioid situation has been getting a spotlight in the recent years nationally, and Westchester County is no exception to the epidemic of drug addiction. The insidious nature of this particular drug is that it often starts through innocent means, a legitimate prescription for a legitimate ailment, but can lead to the depravity that is all too common with the darkness and pain surrounding any drug addiction.

This isn’t the 1980’s where addiction was hyper stigmatized and a source of shame, but those fears of the past still remain. Many resist treatment and seeking out help due to stigma, but the conversation has moved toward a better understanding and concern around the issue. Nonetheless, a small injury can be the beginning of that path for many.

Pain is a difficult symptom for physicians and medical practitioners, as it is subjective and non-observable other than by the reaction of those suffering from it. Being so difficult to gauge, paid medications are often overprescribed in an effort to quell the pain, but can inadvertently lead to addiction.

Westchester County has done a lot on the issue, former County Executive Rob Astorino implemented training policies and community programs, that are now being continued and reinforced by County Executive George Latimer, regarding the opioid epidemic in Westchester County. One of these programs involves community training in Naloxone, or Narcan, training.

Narcan has been a relative miracle in the saving of lives from those undergoing an overdose of opioid medications and drugs, as puts them into a reverse of the overdose and the drug is rendered relatively inert upon application for a time. This is especially important for first responders who often are the first on scene with a patient. The implementation of community training is only more helpful for how to recognize an overdose and what to do following this recognition.

The county has done numerous surveys, and the death rate for opioids has increased in 2015 from the years of 2010 to 2014. The reports show that both communities are concerned about the issue and are taking steps to combat the problem, according to a Westchester County Dept. of Health Community Health Assessment Update.

The opioid deaths in Westchester County in 2015 alone were 79, with 48 men and 31 women. The total opioid deaths in the years of 2010 from 2014 were 250. Those deaths were on the increase during those years leading up to 2015, with the overall statistics and breakdown from the county for 2016 not out yet, one can see the trending upward numbers.

Many local Volunteer Ambulance Corps throughout Westchester County carry Narcan and respond to overdose calls frequently. It is truly a lifesaving drug, but the fact that it is necessary in the first place speaks to the dire situation that the opioid crisis has brought to life.

Theresa Del Grosso, Coalition Coordinator for the Ardsley Supporting Ardsleys Youths and Families (SAYF) Coalition, said that it is in our community.

“It is not yet prevalent at the high school level in Ardsley, as compared to older populations,” Del Grosso said. “However, injuries due to sports have been more severe in recent years for high school students which opens up the potential for it to become a real issue at a younger age.”

The SAYF Coalition is a federally funded program for communities aimed at curbing drug usage. Del Grosso also noted that “a few college students have brought heroin issues back with them,” reinforcing the idea that it is not yet prevalent at the high school level.

The focus on performing well in sports, due to the increase of tuition and the necessity for many of scholarships, leading to an increase in injuries is a way that many are introduced to the painkiller class of medications in the first place. This is a situation that is unrelated to the pharmaceutical companies, but instead offers a way into the crisis that seems at first like a non-sequitur.

Truly it is a complex problem, and one that while being addressed by medical first responders, leaves a difficult path towards combating it in a more aggressive way. Again, pain is a serious issue and one can’t deny a sufferer from a medication that would help, but statewide limitations on how much can be given for a situation is an attempt to limit the potential for addiction while still giving treatment to those who need.

There is hope, and the adamant nature of the local county government and state government to address the crisis truly is a good sign and a step in the right direction.

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