The drug overdose crisis that has swept across our country affects us all, but some areas have been hit harder than others. In New York, the borough of Staten Island has some of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the city. With a population of less than half a million residents, the inhabitants of this island are truly feeling the effects of this epidemic. The story of one man’s death made national headlines when his journal, which chronicled his struggle with addiction, was discovered by his mother. We recently hosted his mother and brother on the show to tell more of his story so we can all learn from it.
The problem on Staten Island has also spurred innovation, and it’s coming from some places you might not expect. The borough has become a testing ground for the New York City Police Department’s antidrug programs aimed not at arresting or punishing users, but at prevention. Working with the mayor, borough president, the departments of health and education, as well as the district attorney’s office, New York’s finest are bringing these innovative ideas to the city they serve and protect. Needless to say, these aren’t the traditional types of DARE programs you might be thinking of. We highlighted one program, the Overdose Response Initiative, recently on our show, but there are many more we didn’t have time to talk about.
One of the most important is naloxone programs. Naloxone is the lifesaving opioid antidote that can literally reverse an overdose. Officers on Staten Island have all been trained in how to administer naloxone and carry it when on patrol. Many lives have been saved as a result, and one officer, Louise Sanfilippo, has so far saved 13 lives herself. We had the chance to talk to her, and you can watch the video below.
When it comes to saving a life with naloxone, time is of the essence. The closer the naloxone is to the person the better. So, in addition to carrying their own naloxone, the force has also been piloting the Naloxone Follow-up Program. In this pilot program, a team of officers visits the house of a recently saved opioid overdose victim and provides naloxone and training to the family. The family will be prepared in case any of their relatives have an overdose. The officers also provide information about treatment options on Staten Island.
In addition, the borough has installed medication drop boxes outside of all precincts. More than 50 percent of the opioids that are taken inappropriately come from a friend, so it’s important not to keep these powerful medications around if you don’t need them. Unfortunately, you can’t just bring them back to the pharmacy or your doctor, so these drop boxes, which are available 24/7, are there for you, no questions asked. Drop boxes are a good way for residents to protect their friends and families.
Nine out of ten people with an addiction problem started using before the age of 18, so the department is also focused on prevention for the local youth. The evidence-based Too Good for Drugs pilot program teams police officers and teachers together for a 10-lesson curriculum designed for 5th-grade students. The program helps students develop healthy relationships with officers by learning they’re real people, just like them. It also teaches students about the consequences and dangers of drug use and how to make good decisions. It’s not just preaching, though, the officer and teacher put the students through role-playing exercises so they are prepared to handle peer pressure in their real lives.
Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and can be treated like other medical conditions. It’s good to see the New York City Police Department using innovative ways to try to prevent its deadly consequence—overdose. To learn more about this epidemic, check out our recent coverage on the issue. To find out how to prevent drug use in your family or get help for someone who needs it, check out our Facing Addiction Over Dinner resources.