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Illegal spread of painkillers focus of federal program for Shinnecock

Michael Canty, assistant U.S attorney, speaks with Shinnecock

Michael Canty, assistant U.S attorney, speaks with Shinnecock Nation members the problems with prescription drug abuse. (Sept. 23, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch dispatched her prescription drug task force to the Shinnecock Indian Nation reservation Monday to educate tribal members on the dangers of prescription drugs as part of a "wholistic" approach to checking the illegal spread of opioid painkillers.

Around a dozen tribal members turned out for the event, which was organized by tribal trustee chairman Daniel Collins as a "proactive measure" to "start looking out for future generations."

Lynch's team, including prosecutors and an investigator, has been traveling the Eastern District of New York, which includes the area from Brooklyn to Montauk, in an effort to head off problems with the widely used drugs before they become a greater danger. The outreach complements stepped-up investigative and enforcement efforts, most in cooperation with state and county police and prosecutors, officials said.

"This is an epidemic that we need to tackle," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Canty said.

Tribal members were told that 2,500 teens a day across the United States get high for the first time using opioid drugs, which are prescribed as Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, hydrocodone and oxycodone, among others. Opioid prescriptions dispensed nationally have nearly tripled over the past 20 years, from 78 million in 1992 to 210 million in 2010.

Since 2003, more overdose deaths have been attributed to this class of drug than heroin and cocaine combined, Canty said.

In New York State, the number of drugstore robberies soared between 2006 and 2010 -- from two to 28. Sixteen drugstores were robbed for the drugs between 2008 and 2011, the office said.

The outreach program, which sought to bring the message to parents and their school-age children, so far has been taken to one school district -- Rockville Centre High School, Canty said. The plan is to bring it to other schools. "We're available to anybody who's interested," he said.

Tribe members were told some warning signs that a child might be involved with the drugs include unexplained absences from school, discovery of the pills, "new individuals popping up at the house," and "conversations they don't want you to hear."

In addition to cracking down on doctors illegally prescribing the drugs, Canty said one big way to reduce their spread is to get them out of the house. Many have prescriptions for drugs not being used, and those present temptations. The tribe on Oct. 26 will host a Drug Enforcement Agency initiative to turn in unused prescription drugs.Facing the danger of the drugs is key to preventing their spread, said one tribal member.

"It's an issue here, it's an issue in the surrounding community," said the Rev. Michael Smith of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, who has been active in tribal drug awareness, prevention and treatment. "Anybody who says it's not is avoiding the issue."

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