WHITE PLAINS, NY --Use of heroin is once again on the rise here in Westchester, across New York State and around the country. As the top law enforcement officer in the county I am deeply concerned about the devastating impact heroin as well as other opioids including the abuse of prescription painkillers is having on the lives of our citizens.
Over the last decade there has been a national effort to crack down on the illegal use of prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. That effort has been largely successful. But a national survey released 2 years ago reveals that heroin use among people 12 years old and older has nearly doubled amid those efforts. Indeed, nearly half of the younger people who inject heroin have reported abusing prescription pain killers before they started using heroin. (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
One reason is simply economics. Heroin is in greater supply as well as cheaper to buy on the street than prescription painkillers. Many people with painkiller addictions made the switch not realizing that it exposed them to increasing danger. As this is an illegal and unregulated market, a heroin consumer does not know the quality of the drug they are actually using. One bag of powder might be 16 percent pure while another is 60 percent. Heroin may also be mixed with other dangerous drugs including fentanyl, a powerful opioid. In March of this year the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert that drug incidents and overdoses involving a heroin-fentanyl mix were increasing at an alarming rate. “Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin.” (http://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2015/hq031815.shtml)
A report released by the CDC in July shows heroin use in the US has more than doubled since 2007. When asked, 500,000 people said they had used heroin in the past 12 months, a 150 percent increase in just six years. And because the street drug is cheaper than prescription pills, the CDC reports heroin-related deaths nearly tripled between 2010 and 2013. These alarming numbers have caused health leaders to call this lethal trend a 'drug epidemic'.
Law enforcement here in Westchester continues to vigorously pursue drug traffickers. For the drug abuser, however, immediate attention to the underlying problem may save a life. With this purpose in mind, there were two critical developments in New York: the “911 Good Samaritan” law and the encouraged use of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug being carried by more and more police departments.
New York’s “911 Good Samaritan” law, Penal Law § 220.78 is designed to save lives. It went into effect in September, 2011. The purpose of the law is to allow for people to seek immediate health care by dialing 911 for someone who is overdosing from alcohol or drugs or experiencing a life threatening emergency and not fear they will be charged and prosecuted for lesser drug and alcohol possessory crimes.
Since last summer, New York State has offered training on the use of naloxone to law enforcement officers. It’s a medicine that can be given to a heroin or other opioid overdose victim to reverse the effects of the overdose. Equipping police as first responders with naloxone is a practical strategy to reduce fatalities.
The resurgence of heroin that we are experiencing as well as the continued abuse of prescription painkillers impacts people from all walks of life: the young and single, middle aged and married, as well as the families of the abuser. An unchecked and untreated drug addiction will destroy lives. We will continue to use our available resources and work on both sides of the public safety equation, educating people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as prosecuting those who commit crimes in order to reduce the harm caused to individuals as well as our communities.