I recently attended a lecture at Canisius College by the former Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Raymond Kelly. It actually was more of a conversation than a lecture, as Mr. Kelly answered a series of questions posed by a pair of Canisius professors before entertaining questions from the audience. Given that Kelly holds the distinction of being the longest serving commissioner in New York City history and he has been credited with helping to thwart numerous terrorist attacks following 9/11, you would think that the first question of the night would have been about terrorism. But it was not. Instead, he was asked about how to best combat the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic.
I found his answer to be very interesting. He began by acknowledging the extent of the problem and summarizing some of the efforts being employed in various jurisdictions. It quickly became apparent, however, that he did not have a good answer. In this regard, he is no different from the rest of us.
In the last couple years I know that I have spent more time than I ever imagined I would, agonizing over the problem. I have seen my adult children mourn the deaths of former classmates and I have attended the wakes and funerals of people who could not break their addictions. I have listened at legislative hearings to family members talk of their loved ones’ struggles and beg us for help. I have talked to healthcare professionals and ordinary citizens in an attempt to gain perspective on the situation. It has been a very humbling and depressing experience.
Late last month the county executive held a press conference to warn us that at least seven people had died in a 24-hour period due to a particularly bad batch of heroin. Many more of our neighbors have died since then. There is no shortage of awareness or concern about the opioid crisis. Everyone I know is willing to spend significant amounts of money to alleviate the scourge of addiction. Like New York City’s former police commissioner, though, nobody knows exactly how to proceed.
In the past couple years the state has clamped down on the overprescribing of opioids and the county has established a hotline especially for addicts and their families. (That hotline number is 716-831-7007.) One of my colleagues, Patrick Burke, has sponsored a resolution to spend another million dollars of county funds on efforts to curb opioid abuse. I suspect most members of the Legislature are willing to do so, if the additional money will make a difference. Another of my colleagues, Lynne Dixon, is the Chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. She plans to have a wide ranging discussion of the effectiveness our efforts, both current and prospective, at a meeting of her committee in the very near future. I look forward to this upcoming discussion. We all should, because it is only by working together that we stand a chance of defeating this plague.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.