At a drug prevention symposium at the Port Jefferson School District two years ago Father Frank Pizzarelli who founded Hope House Ministries said during a panel session that when he arrived in Port Jefferson over 30 years ago, events opened his eyes to the great need for an organization like his.
“When I first came here 32 years ago in the first eight months I buried nine teenagers from our community who died because of drugs, alcohol and suicide at a time when we never talked about those issues,” he told a crowd gathered in the High School auditorium.
The problem continues in new and unforeseen ways.
Unfortunately, drug use among teens is not a thing of the past, in fact, in many ways the problem has only intensified over the years.
More recently, during a presentation to the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association this month, Inspector Robert Oswald, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department's Sixth Precinct, said that the majority of the crimes committed in the area are related to one thing: the prescription drug epidemic.
"That’s the fertilizer to all the crime in every community," Oswald said. "... That’s where the real problems lie. [It] leads to the larcenies. It lies with the middle class to upper middle class communities."
Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn, D-Setauket, told the crowd at the same Civic Association meeting that thieves "are now heading for your medicine box before your jewelry box.”
The epidemic has led to crimes much more horrendous, like the 2011 slaying of four people at a Medford pharmacy by David Laffer who was addicted to prescription painkillers.
Drug abuse statistics are shocking.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse says that after marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders. Of those, Adderall and Vicodin are the top two on a list that also includes cold medicines, OxyCotin and Ritalin.
A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overdose deaths from opioids - the type of pain relievers found in OxyContin and Vicodin among others - exceeded deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. This, according to experts, has only gotten worse over the years. The CDC says that deaths from these types of drugs has "more than tripled" since 1999.
In 2008, according to the CDC report, there were 20,044 prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States.
According to Claire Olsen, program director at St Charles Hospital’s Rehabilitation Center, the popularity of prescripton drugs in teens can be attributed to the ease which they can be obtained.
“It’s low cost,” she said in an interview with Patch last year and that kids can access them “in a million ways.”
She said the teens pool their money and can buy pills for $5 to $10 each.
“It’s not isolated,” she said. “It’s a group social activity.”
The problem has treatment facilities stretched.
Last year, St. Charles Hospital was one of two Long Island hospitals requesting more beds to accommodate an increase in patients admitted to its drug rehabilitation and detox program. It was requesting 10 additional beds. Like many hospitals, St. Charles said it was seeing an increasing drug abuse over the past three or fours years including the use of prescription painkillers.
"We get 15 to 20 calls a week from families asking about [help for] relatives, to take them in to get them off the drugs," St. Charles Hospital Chief Executive Jim O'Connor told Newsday at the time.
We want to hear from you. What do you think can be done about the prescription drug epidemic? Is enough being done in schools, communities and by police? What can parents do? Talk about it in the comments below and give us your ideas and opinions.