On Tuesday, June 13 representatives from the NYPD Opioid Task Force and the 68th Precinct hosted a seminar at Holy Angels Academy to raise awareness and debunk misinformation surrounding opioids and the growing epidemic.
“The more people we educate. The more people who understand. The more people who ask questions. That’s how we are to going to tackle this,” said Inspector Thomas Conforti of the Community Affairs Bureau.
The opioid problem is clear in the stats. According to NYC.com, more than 1,000 people in New York City died of opioid related drug overdoses in 2016, the highest total on record for a single year. But this isn’t just a citywide issue, but a local one as well. According to the Captain of the 68th precinct, Joseph W. Hayward, out of the 425 drug arrests in the precinct since January 1, 133 were for controlled substances. According to Hayward, addicts weren’t just being arrested for drug possession, but were perpetrating a majority of the petty crime. Ninety percent of those arrested for petty crime had prior arrests related to drugs.
“We must shed light and bring it out into the open that this community has people in it with drug problems that we must help and by helping them, reduce crime,” said Hayward.
Education around how opioids work and encouraging residents to hold their neighbors accountable was the emphasis of the presentation given by Conforti.
Opioid addictions don’t begin in that way many believe said Conforti. The problem starts for many with one of the 650,000 legal prescriptions that are written every day. He said many addictions begin with an injury and a prescription or an old pill bottle found in the back of a medicine cabinet that leads to experimentation and later, an addiction.
Once the pills become hard to get or too expensive the individual turns to the streets, he said. According to the presentation, the average opioid addict is 45 to 54 years old.
According to Conforti, the fact that opioids were readily prescribed combined with the drugs’ flexibility to be taken in a variety of ways — swallowing, snorting, smoking or injecting — makes it easy for people to get hooked.
But the situation has recently become even more dangerous. Fentanyl, a drug 50 times more deadly than heroin, has been used to cut heroin. The deadliness of the drug, which only takes a small amount to be deadly, has made overdose even more likely, according to two officers from the NYPD Opioid Task Force.
Conforti said there are steps community members can be taking to help fight the problem. These include checking in on neighbors and friends you know have prescriptions, reporting suspicious activities to the police, knowing the symptoms of an overdose and discarding old pills properly by either returning to pharmacies that will accept them or dropping them at the police station.
“One death from overdose is one too many,” said Pastor Khader El-Yateem, the spiritual head of Salam Arabic Lutheran Church and a candidate for City Council, who says he has spoken to many residents who witness the selling of drugs in their apartment buildings.
“This is a great beginning for the conversation, and I hope, as the inspector said, that we will do more of these and work with more partners to make sure we are not preaching to the choir, but we are preaching to the people who need to listen about the dangers about these illegal drugs and opioids that are killing the youth and people in our district,” he said. “Through our work together, we will literally save lives.”