The United States is undergoing the most fatal opioid epidemic in American history, and Onondaga is at the crisis’ forefront of the Central New York counties. This issue has been brewing and a multi-pronged approach to the crisis that considers all angles and roots of the issue is crucial in aiding public health and security. In order to hurdle the opioid epidemic in Onondaga County and beyond, we must more effectively regulate prescription drugs and provide aid and rehabilitation for drug users by anticipating addiction and withdrawal.
Tighter regulation of prescription drugs and county-wide awareness of the dangers they pose when misused is a positive step towards a solution. This regulation includes meticulous training in order to prescribe opioids. More intense training that emphasizes the gravity of opioids will ideally provide care for people who need it, while reducing the misuse, abuse and circulation of these drugs.
According to Dr. Indu Gupta, the commissioner of Onondaga County Health Department, opioid abuse is the most serious health-related issue that the Onondaga community faces. Barry Weiss, the Administrative Officer of Onondaga County’s DA office and task force, reiterates that there must be an ongoing conversation in the community to be aware and therefore end this drug problem.
In an effort to foster an ongoing conversation, in January of 2017, the Syracuse Common Council urged community leaders and organizations, churches and schools to screen “Chasing the Dragon”, a documentary that outlines the risks of opioids and the ways in which people fall into addiction. While this effort is a wholesome one with noble intentions, the screening of a prevention film hardly scratches the surface of the necessary measures to end this dire issue. Although the New York State Department of Health has estimated that the number of opioid deaths in Onondaga County has decreased by 34 percent since 2016, the problem is still very much alive.
A Syracuse non-profit, community-based agency known as ACR Health recognizes the severity of the opioid epidemic in Onondaga County, and is making active steps towards providing support services to those with substance abuse disorders. The agency has been moving through Syracuse’s Armory Square and offering patrons of bars and restaurants free training in an endeavor to battle drug addiction. They tactfully chose this area’s bars and restaurants, as it turns out that bathrooms are an idyllic place for drug users, as it provides access to both water and privacy. This theory was legitimized when a man was found dead from an overdose in the bathroom of the restaurant Otro Cinco in 2017.
The criminalization and incarceration of minor drug offenders does not and cannot bring an end to the opioid epidemic. By incarcerating minor drug offenders, they are set on a path that upon their release, makes them far more likely to struggle to get back on their feet. They will flounder in an effort to develop supportive relationships, lead successful careers and will be at a higher risk of relapse, further perpetuating the epidemic.
Filling prisons with minor drug offenders is costly both personally and fiscally, which can be solved by instead sending offenders to community-based rehabilitation centers.
According to BLVD Treatment Centers, “If just 10 percent of eligible offenders were treated in community-based programs instead of going to prison, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion as compared with current practices.”
This would assist drug abusers rather than further damage them, create revenue and attain considerable strides towards minimizing proliferation of opioids in the United States. Agencies like ACR are helpful in this struggle, and we should expand this agency and create more like it to prove to individuals struggling with drug abuse disorders that there are people who can help them.
Additionally, it is important to have assistive measures in place before prescribing individuals opioids in anticipation of potential addiction and withdrawal. Dr. Ross Sullivan of Upstate University Hospital realized that if an individual is hooked on opioids, it is far too difficult for him to go cold-turkey until the wait is over for a spot in rehab. He understands that this is not realistic for a person undergoing withdrawal symptoms, so he decided to open his own clinic that gradually eases addicts away from prescription opioids. This is instead of abruptly cutting them off, which often forces them to resort to street drugs like heroin. This is the only clinic in Syracuse and one of few in the country that ties patients over until they can find help in a rehabilitation facility.
The work of Dr. Sullivan is highly commendable and a process that needs to be more widely understood and practiced, both in Syracuse and nationwide. In order to make steps towards the battle against opioids, there must be harsher regulation that will limit addiction and circulation of prescription opioids, and we must be more open to individuals with drug abuse problems and how we can help them instead of further harm them.