Heroin and other opiates have been the scourge of the U.S. for over a decade now and there are no signs that it will be stopping. Now there are reports that heroin use is increasing in teens in high school and younger kids. Local drug counselors from the Lower Hudson Valley have been seeing a rise in youth drug use and are championing for an increase in school-based interventions for drug addiction.
Throughout last year's school year, there were nine high school students from Westchester that reported that they had used heroin. Across Westchester, there were fifty-nine students who reported abusing Oxycodone and twenty-nine who said they used Percocet without a prescription. Overall, there were 152 reports of opiate misuse across the Westchester school district.
Reports show that this number could easily increase in 2016. With this year's school year only halfway complete, there have already been reports of over 65 students misusing opiates. Ellen Morehouse, who is the executive director of SAS, thinks this is just the tip of the iceberg. The adolescent services director at a local treatment center in Carmel called Arms Acres, Earl Wiggins, agrees and says that opioid abuse among younger children is significant.
“I have seen fourteen and thirteen-year-olds shooting up heroin. In any given unit, at any given time, half of our girls are heroin users. These numbers didn’t exist fifteen years ago,” stated Wiggins. At his clinic, they are currently treating a thirteen year for her heroin addiction while there are fourteen boys who are being treated for opioid addictions. Wiggins states that this drug epidemic is a national problem, attacking our youth no matter their age, race, or class.
This information has led to an increase in school initiatives to fight the problem. However, there are many who are not sure if the current programs are actually effective. Some districts do more work, such as the SAS program in the Harrison district. It helps districts to offer anti-substance abuse information while providing confidential counseling to their students.
While this program has been in effect for twenty years, there are many who are still not getting the anti-drug message. And it isn’t just in schools that there are people who aren’t hearing the message. Morehouse moderated a discussion about heroin last year, but only thirty people attended. She says this isn’t just a county issue, but a lack of engagement across the entire Westchester community.
To combat this, Morehouse is focusing even more on schools. Last week, she coordinated a conference for local school nurses that focused on adolescence drug and alcohol use. However, the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence has surveyed students and says they are not seeing opiate abuse in significant numbers.
That flies in the face of what the Executive Director of the of the Rockland Council has seen with her own eyes. She knows that opiate addiction is on the rise with youth and called the opiate epidemic “pervasive”. Over the summer, she created HOPE: Heroin, Opiate Public Education to add her agencies voice to the battle.
There are some in the community who want to see more counselors in the schools. One of those people is Renne Arbitman, who last her 24 year old soon to an opiate overdose seven years ago. She is calling for more intervention, stating that the schools did nothing when her son got into drugs in middle school.
Morehouse agrees that more needs to be done in schools. She has seen that most schools will recognize opiate addiction and use as a subject, but will only offer the minimum amount of instruction on the topic. She has seen many schools who claim that there are no opiate problems in their schools.
Some of these come down to funding, as many schools must choose between a drug counselor or a Math or English teacher. Many schools have lost their federal funding and state-community partnership grants that were supposed to support their substance abuse programs. Previously, seventy schools used to have SAS counselors in their building but now there are only forty that utilize them. That is because schools have to support the counselors themselves, paying for two-thirds of their cost.
These barriers make it difficult to incorporate anti-drug messages into elementary schools, as Wiggins is calling for. While many Putnam schools require that parents and students attend pre-prom anti-drinking discussions, there are advocates who believe that message is coming too late. In response, Yorktown police have launched the Stay on Track initiative, where they take the message directly to school districts to discuss opioids. It is still not quite enough, though. Law enforcement wants to see every schools district becoming involved in anti-opiate efforts.