By Alexander Corrigan
It is no secret that heroin is a serious issue here in Suffolk County. The scourge of heroin is claiming countless youth from the Island on a daily basis, with very few signs of stopping or even lessening its grips on the afflicted youth and adults. Latest on the ever growing list of the deceased is Georgie Singh, 22, of Nesconset. He died of a fatal overdose, the direct result of the intravenous use of heroin.
The first step in reversing the toll taken is to identify the source of the problem. Many cite the prevalence of prescription drugs, especially opiate painkillers, as the beginning of a habit. Prescription drugs have become more and more prevalent in and around college campuses and have a higher level of access to the youth than ever before. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription drugs have become the second most abused behind marijuana. This spot has been previously held by methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine over the last 30 years. Legislation and law enforcement have reflected these trends and use has been scaled down.
Prescription drugs, however, provide a different challenge. A doctor will not prescribe cocaine or crystal meth to a patient, but he can, and often will, prescribe Vicodin or Oxycontin. Both medications are opiates, like heroin, and provide a similar high and effects, but are more expensive to obtain. DEA Special Agent Wilber Plummer agrees. “People often become addicted to pills and move to heroin because it is cheaper,” he said.
Edward Balzer of Mastic Beach watched his son descend through the same downward spiral until his eventual overdose. “My son’s problem started with prescription drugs,” he said, “It was the gateway to where he is now.”
Heroin has been made increasingly available and enticing to the youth, using designer labels and names to identify and draw attention to particular “brands” of heroin. According to Theresa Corrigan from the Nassau District Attorney’s Office, “For the young men… They’ll have a skeleton or a flaming skull. They don’t want to leave the girls out so they’ll have something labeled Prada.” This clever marketing draws in clients while clearly identifying different batches of heroin, increasing their popularity through word of mouth.
Another change in the marketing of the drug is making it readily available for inhalation, or snorting, like cocaine. There is a preconceived notion among users that it is safer and more chic. These underhanded tactics take away from the perceived risk and makes it seem even more glamorous.
Steps have been taken to help stem the tide of destruction and crime caused by these drugs and the toll it is taking on the Suffolk County community as a whole. One such initiative involves a DEA-sponsored drive to dispose of unused prescription drugs. This program is targeted at removing the drugs from the home in order to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The DEA is also working in conjunction with local and state police agencies, the DA’s office of Suffolk and Nassau counties, and the Sheriff’s office in order to build a stronger and more coordinated police response to the issue at hand.
Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy, also created a ten-point plan designed to address the issues stemming from the abuse of heroin and all the social, economic and public health issues it causes, such as trying to create more state and county sponsored rehabilitation programs to give help to those in need and to help set up more youth prevention programs.
Even with all these initiatives, programs and police intervention, the problem with drugs, especially heroin and related opiates, is still on the rise here in the heart of suburban Long Island. The Suffolk County drug map, created by the Suffolk County Department of Information Technology, compiles all the arrest records for drug offenses by hamlet. According to the map in 2009 the hamlet of Selden had 42 drug-related arrests. The following year, 2010, there were 107 drug related-arrests recorded for Selden. That means in a one-year period the arrests for drugs almost tripled in Selden alone.
The initiatives in place are good and definitely mark a clear and concise starting point but more needs to be done in order to protect the community. A lot of these programs Steve Levy proposed are lost in legal loopholes and wrapped up in red tape. There have only been a few pill drives, like the previously mentioned sponsored by the DEA, but it is simply not enough. In order to really be effective it needs to be held once a month, or even once a week. Doctors are prescribing pills on a daily basis, which in turn are left in a medicine cabinet well within the reach of prying hands.
The singer Neil Young once said, “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,” and anyone with eyes can see the toll taken here in Selden, here in Suffolk County and here on Long Island. Until the legislature, rehabilitation and law enforcement evolve and adapt to the problem it is only going to continue to get worse as a new addicts are born every day.