Story by Laura Scherb
A national crisis is at hand, but Mary Lou Leary and William J. Hochul Jr. said there is no time or money to put off solving it another day. Even sitting inside a quiet community like Chautauqua, the urgency of opiates and opioid addictions and overdoses cannot be escaped.
Speaking Monday afternoon in the Hall of Philosophy, Leary, deputy director of state, local and tribal affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Hochul, U.S. attorney for the Western New York area, spoke on “Safeguarding Communities Against America’s Leading Killer.”
“This is a crisis that demands our attention,” Leary said. “We do not have time to wait.”
Leary cautioned against “the deadly and alarming challenge to public safety and health” that encompasses all communities in the U.S. Heroin addiction began as a consequence of the prescription painkiller movement, and the steadily rising death rates from overdosing is a national emergency, she said.
A four-pronged approach is essential to mitigating the epidemic, Leary said. The recovery strategy includes education, monitoring, drug disposal, and enforcement.
Public education about prevention is important, but knowledge on the prescriber of these drugs is lacking, she said. A national training program should be implemented to establish the standards for painkiller prescription, and it should be mandated as required in order to practice.
This goes hand in hand with increased monitoring: While computer programs that track prescriptions, patients’ usage and signs of potential abuse are already in use in most states, the U.S. needs a program that would cross state lines more effectively to minimize accidental over-prescription, Leary said.
Moreover, a nation-wide program for drug collection is key.
“One day a year is not enough,” Leary said. “There needs to be more frequent, accessible and sustainable programs.”
Most addictions begin not on the street corner, but in the family medicine cabinet, she said.
Finally, enforcement agencies need to be working on every level to fight this problem in more efficient ways, Leary said.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” she said. “We need to change attitudes about addicts. Enforcement officers have begun saying, ‘It’s not up to me to judge these people. It’s up to me to save them.’ ”
Leary finished with a call for an urgent effort on everyone’s part to end the epidemic, and Hochul picked up where she left off, calling for an examination of the “day-to-day, life-and-death consequences.”
Comparing these opiates and opioids to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hochul warned that these drugs can hide in plain sight but still cause massive damage to those who have an addiction.
These prescription drugs, because they are legal, can leak into the community in a variety of ways, including corrupt doctors, patients who distribute the pills themselves instead of using them, and even desperate addicts who will root through the trash to acquire the drugs, Hochul said.
When these drugs are administered by prescribers in lab coats, it becomes difficult to stop the leakage into society.
The danger of these drugs, is that they make people feel good, Hochul said. They’re “the cure to the common, day-to-day maladies of hyper-tense reality.”
The prevalence of these drugs is widespread and urgent, Hochul reiterated.
“These drugs have extraordinary street value — not just in Mayville and Jamestown on either end of this beautiful lake, but in your communities at home.”
Western New York is in the midst of a drug epidemic that Hochul sees every day in his constituency. The goal, he said, is to band together to fight it.
“The solution to this problem is the cooperation of police work, public awareness and education, media cooperation, and the cooperation of families,” Hochul said.
Hochul and Leary left the audience with hope for the future, and said everyone plays a role in the fight against these drugs.
“It’s not just here. It’s everywhere,” Hochul said. “As William Wilberforce once said of slavery, ‘You may choose to look away, but you can never say you didn’t know.’ ”