A Painful Dilemma


Too often an issue of importance gets sidelined or buried in the bureaucracy because the people of power have not had to confront the concern personally. Community after community has been having forums concerning the ...

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Too often an issue of importance gets sidelined or buried in the bureaucracy because the people of power have not had to confront the concern personally. Community after community has been having forums concerning the epidemic use of heroin within their community. Finally, people are standing up, stepping out and taking note of this infectious epidemic that is putting all of our lives at risk.

The numbers that are emerging from all of our towns regarding heroin use is alarming. The profile of the user is equally troubling. Heroin is infecting people of all ages and all backgrounds. It does not have a particular profile. Because it s readily available and can be snorted instead of shot up, young people especially are tempted to try it. They also believe they are invincible.

Local school communities are making an aggressive effort to address heroin and other drug use in their schools. They are making a valiant effort to educate their students and their parents. They re attempting to more consistently address drug use and alcohol use within their schools. Some districts are also attempting to address the problem in a less punitive way. They are trying to respond with a more therapeutic approach that will provide students in trouble with help.

How effective all of this will be is yet to be seen. It is going to demand a consistent and cooperative effort from our schools, our law-enforcement and our local communities. If it s to be done right, it is going to cost money and demand a lot of time and energy on everyone s part. There are no easy answers or solutions to this epidemic infection.

One of the greatest frustrations in our county, and probably across the state, is the lack of accessible, affordable treatment options for those battling addiction. In Suffolk County, if someone needs to be detoxed, we have two options: Nassau University Medical Center and Eastern Long Island Hospital. Unfortunately, they have a limited number of beds to respond to the epidemic need for detox.

Chronic heroin use leads to physical dependence, a state in which the body has built up tremendous tolerance to the presence of this drug. When the user stops taking heroin, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms, which unfortunately are usually severe. They often begin a few hours after the last use.

The symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, kicking movements and severe craving for the use of heroin.

Major withdrawals can last at least a week. Heroin craving can persist years after stopping the drug, particularly upon exposure to triggers such as people, places and things associated with drug use.

There is no law governing insurance coverage through detox programs. Some insurance plans cover detox and others don t. Most heroin users need detox. No rehab will take a heroin addict who s coming off the drug. Because the withdrawal process is sometimes so painful and difficult, medical supervision is critical. Unfortunately, people die during this process.

The great frustration for parents is that there is no law that requires anyone, including minors, to get treatment for substance abuse, including medical detoxification. Most treatment programs will not take teenagers and young adults, or anyone for that matter who does not come voluntarily.

Therein lies the painful dilemma for parents. How do you watch your son or daughter slowly kill themselves because of addiction?

A group of parents went before the New York State PTA convention. They called for a change in state law that would allow parents to compel their teenage children to enter medically necessary detox without court order. Presently, the only way a parent can intervene on behalf of their son or daughter is through court order. Unfortunately, that bureaucratic process is endless and costly.

The same group of parents from the Sachem School District also advocated for more detox beds in Suffolk County to address the growing need for treatment opportunities. The need is epidemic and access to treatment is limited. With our tough economic landscape, I hope our legislature will be attentive and not just bury this concern under a pile of things to do later.

Detox is only the first step. The next step, which is critical, is a residential rehab. That is another nightmare. There are a number of well-respected, short-term, insurance driven rehabs that will provide 28 days of treatment and an after care plan.

Unfortunately, for young heroin addicts, 28 days is not enough. Outpatient treatment for most has proven to be an abysmal failure. The sober house concept, on paper, sounds good, but unfortunately, more often than not, is not effectively managed or maintained.

There are limited, long-term treatment options. Bed availability is a problem and payment is a bigger problem. If we hope to be effective in the treatment of heroin addiction, we must address these concerns. Too many young people s lives hang in the balance.

Comprehensive long-term residential treatment is crucial in fighting heroin addiction and in helping to empower our young people to wellness. Parents need to be prepared that if they are serious about supporting their addictive children in recovery, this is a long and arduous road to travel. Treatment to sustain recovery is not easy. Oftentimes, there are missteps along the way. We cannot become discouraged. We must stay the course. Our wounded teenagers are counting on us.

We must advocate for more comprehensive, long-term residential treatment options, especially for our teenagers and young adults. They must be competently staffed, and they must not be insurance or profit driven.

Based on the number of deaths so far in Suffolk County, this epidemic is not waning.