On September 8, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York co-hosted a community event to increase awareness of opioid abuse.
The event, held at Massena High School, was the first in a series of community events the U.S. Attorney’s Office plans to hold throughout the Northern District of New York in order to generate greater community involvement in combating, preventing and treating opioid addiction, including addition to heroin and prescription painkillers.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said: “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, eclipsing deaths from motor vehicle crashes and firearms. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to prosecute heroin dealers and pill pushers, and to collaborate with community leaders to help addicts receive treatment.”
The September 8 event began with a resource and information fair, with law enforcement agencies and treatment and service providers offering information on drug abuse, addiction, and recovery. Participants in the fair included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the New York State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Seaway Valley Prevention Council/Massena Drug-Free Community Coalition, Akwesasne Prevention Services, the Rose Hill Treatment Facility, Comrades of Hope, the 39 Serenity Place sober living facility, and Raiders Committed, a student group dedicated to sober lifestyles.
The event included a screening of Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict, an FBI- and DEA-produced documentary that profiles the stories of individuals who abused opiates or had family members become addicts. The film aims to teach teenagers, college students, and parents about the cycle of addiction and the tragic consequences associated with opioid abuse.
The documentary was introduced by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick, Massena Schools Superintendent Patrick Brady, and Massena Police Chief Adam Love.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith told the group: “We aggressively prosecute pill mills, doctors who prescribe for black market profit rather than patient care, and heroin trafficking organizations and dealers whose poison kills, to reduce the flow of opioids for illicit use, deter prospective drug dealers who learn of the potential punishment, and spread information about the severe harm. We understand well that public health and safety requires a holistic approach to this epidemic, supporting education on the dangers of illicit drugs and the misuse of prescription drugs; physician education on the need for careful attention and active management in the prescription of opioids to preserve their availability to relieve suffering and diminish their abuse; and increasing the availability and accessibility of treatment. . . We want to tell anyone who is tempted to abuse an opioid, even once: ‘Don’t do it. If you have started, stop. Get the help that you need. You are worth it. You deserve to be healthy and happy.’”
Chief Love said: “This heroin epidemic cannot be solved by any one agency. We cannot arrest our way out of this. It is critical to have community involvement on the part of young people, parents, schools, treatment facilities, religious institutions, the media, and others. Being involved means knowing what this addiction is, being aware of warning signs, knowing what to do, who to call when you need help, and taking action when it is needed.”
The event concluded with a community response panel, moderated by Marilyn P. Morey, Community Outreach Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office. She led an in-depth look at all stages of the addiction journey, from the initial exposure to opioids to a person in recovery. Panelists provided their own experiences to assist the audience in grasping the need for various entities to be involved in dealing with an opiate addiction. Panelists included a mother of a recovering heroin addict; a representative from a sober living facility, a high school student who helped found a group committed to sober lifestyles; a high school guidance counselor; a recovery coach; a detoxification nurse; the director of a local treatment facility; and an emergency medical technician.
Massena Mayor Timmy J. Currier, who is also co-chairman of the Massena Drug-Free Community Coalition, concluded the event by saying: “If you have yet to be impacted by heroin, it is very likely that you will be in some manner. Many members of this community have joined our drug-free community coalition and are working hard to deal with this issue from every angle. However, real success will only be achieved when every citizen does their part and when we all work together, I am confident we will make great progress and save lives.”
On October 6th, Massena High School hosted a follow-up event specifically geared toward high school freshmen. The U.S. Attorney’s Office participated. The event a featured another screening of Chasing the Dragon and a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Morey, followed by a question-and-answer session.
Additional community events are being planned in several cities across the 32 counties of the Northern District of New York. Events are scheduled in the Watertown, Syracuse, Utica, Plattsburgh and Albany areas. For more information, please contact Marilyn Morey or Emily Gagnon at 518-431-0247, or Marilyn.Morey@usdoj.gov and Emily.Gagnon@usdoj.gov.