2017-04-19 / Schools

Garrison School Continues Conversation on Opioid Epidemic

By Dennis Mazzuca

Tuesday evening, the Board of Education of the Garrison School met to pass the administrative budget for BOCES ($9,232,000). The board also approved putting a proposition on the ballot in May to reestablish a capital reserve fund with a 10-year span, essentially a place to put the money from an expiring reserve fund, in the amount of $288,328.

Near of the end of that meeting, the floor was opened to public comment, and Melody Matero took the microphone. Her comments were in regard to the Drugs Know No Boundaries roundtable the board held several weeks ago. She expressed concerns and disappointment at the direction that was taken that evening, especially at the heavy emphasis on law enforcement. She stated that as someone who lives in this tragic reality – her son passed away from an overdose four years ago – the meeting was a painful reminder of the fear, stigma, and confusion around this topic.

Matero told the board that unless there is a drastic change, loved ones will continue to die from this disease. That is something she emphasized throughout her comments, that this epidemic is a disease, comparing it to other health conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. She wanted to see a stronger surge in seeking a solution via education and medical treatment, stating “we will never arrest our way out of this problem”. Matero was especially perturbed by comments made at the roundtable about the use of Narcan, and how those affected by this are bad, or criminal people.

Several board members expressed similar concerns over the direction of the roundtable, and said they were moved by Mrs. Matero’s comments. Board President Raymond O’Rourke stated that the roundtable was just a part in the continuum of conversations about this topic, with member James Hoch commenting that while the group who live this reality may have been disappointed by the meeting, it may have served as an introduction to others. Matero thanked the board for putting the meeting together, and for continuing to show a commitment to fighting the epidemic.

Following on the heels of that Roundtable, the district was able to put together a meeting the following Friday, April 7, with Brandon del Pozo, Chief of Burlington, Vermont, Police Department, as a part of that continuum mentioned by O’Rourke. Vermont has declared a state of emergency in the past due to the opioid epidemic. Chief del Pozo is also a former resident of Cold Spring and still has relatives and friends here.

Chief del Pozo said that be it in Burlington or Philipstown, the drugs are coming via New York City, and ultimately Mexico. However, he also said that he believes that heroin is coming into the country through the most heavily guarded and secured sections of the border, and urged local law enforcement to focus on the local issues, and not hold out hope for the federal government to solve the problem.

Del Pozo brought with him a social worker who works within his force, who spoke about addiction as a mental health disorder, and how the steps between first use and addiction were a short journey. Conversation turned to the steps leading up to use and addiction, mentioning prescription pills and marijuana as gateway drugs. However, the social worker went further, saying that children are being conditioned for addiction far earlier, through smart phone use and video games. She said that these things reacted with dopamine receptors in the brain, in the same way drugs do. Some talk was also dedicated to the fact, echoing something said at the roundtable earlier, that THC levels in marijuana are exponentially higher than they were decades ago.

The chief then went on to talk about the medical profession in Vermont, and how they refused to cooperate with the police, forcing the police to investigate on their own the use of prescription pills. This led them to finding a Medicaid list of medical professionals and how many pills they prescribed, with patient names being confidential. The data they found was for the whole country, but they focused on New England, and discovered that while most of the states were on par with each other, Vermont was unusually high. Chief del Pozo then held a press conference where he demanded transparency from the health profession, saying that many of the overdoses started from pills they prescribed. He stated that the medication take back boxes were a good step forward, but advised those gathered to question their doctors as to why so many pills were prescribed in the first place.

When asked if there was one thing he would like to see implemented, del Pozo said that he would have Narcan be everywhere. He added that no addict wants to use Narcan because it kills their high.

Giving advice to parents in the audience, he said that prevention is key, along with a strong support network, and for those either suspected of or recovering from addiction, they should be removed from social groups that support the habit. He also spoke of the importance of outdoor activities and exercise. The social worker echoed this, and added that how we teach children to deal with pain and stress is also important, saying that the answer to those should not always be with a pill.

Del Pozo believed we should use the fact that we are a small community to our advantage, stressing that communication is very important. O’Rourke also noted this, telling the board and Melody Matero that the battle must be fought on a local level. O’Rourke believes the school plays a key role in this fight.

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