Members of different groups and agencies met on Saturday in Lancaster, N.Y to discuss the growing opiate addiction crisis and strategize how to combat prescription drug abuse. Among those meeting was Rob Kent who is the General Council for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse in New York, as well as representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Attorney General, multiple healthcare field leaders, and dozens of individuals who have had their lives directly impacted by prescription drug abuse. They were meeting to discuss the root of this growing issue and strategize how to move forward.
Widespread access to addictive prescription drugs started this crisis, with vague wording on the addictive nature of the painkillers causing many to become abusers of their prescription. John Flickinger, who is the head of the D.E.A. in Buffalo noted that, "Prescription drugs being prescribed to you are the number one way that many different people are becoming addicted to opiates." With crackdowns on the prescribing of painkillers occurring across the nation, more and more people are turning to heroin and this group lays responsibility at the feet of physicians.
"This epidemic [is from] those who are writing prescriptions. This entire epidemic lays at their feet, this is how the whole issue started; this is where it came from," said Julie Israel. She has a personal stake in the state working harder to help those who suffer from opiate addiction after losing her son to his addiction. Both she and her husband, Avi, have spent significant time working to combat this issue and push their government to take more action on the matter. They have seen that this sort of tragedy can befall anyone because of the current system and they want to ensure that no other families have to deal with the loss of their child.
"Our mission is to educate everyone that we can so that you don't end up like our family, with an empty chair at the holiday table, "Avi stated. There are already over one hundred and seventy empty seats around tables this year for this county, as the first seven months of 2015 showed 171 deaths from opioid overdoses. This is an increase from last year’s total of 120, with the data showing anticipating the end of the year total more than doubling 2014's. Debra Smith, another attendant at this forum, will also have an empty seat this year.
"No one should feel this way and I want to keep any other mother from feeling what I do today," said Smith. Her son was an athlete and scholar when he sought treatment from kidney stones. He was prescribed addictive painkillers and became addicted, dying from an overdose in September of this year. Smith took the time to memorialize all the deaths from opiate use this year by placing 173 luminary bags on the lawn outside the forum, providing a fond remembrance for these addicts who have lost their lives during 2015. She struggles with her tears as she tried to compose herself.
"He was a blessing for me. I'm so sorry he is gone now, but I am also so grateful that I had him."