Suffolk authorities gathered on Wednesday to tout a community program that spotlights the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse in the county where opioids claimed a record number of lives last year.
The Ugly Truth, a program that has gained in popularity since being introduced in March 2015, is one of the tools Suffolk County is using to combat the opioid epidemic, which may have killed as many as 340 people in 2016, up from a possible 270 in 2015, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said.
Sini, who spoke at Wednesday’s news conference at the West Islip Library, noted the goals of the Ugly Truth: raise awareness of the problem, explain consequences of substance abuse and provide resources.
“It’s very important that we recognize the problem, that we talk about the problem clearly and intelligently and we provide people with the tools necessary to get their lives back on track,” Sini said.
“Those numbers [of deaths] are obviously tragic,” Sini said. “Each one of those numbers represents a person, a family, a loved one or a friend who lost someone.”
Ugly Truth forums, which had been hosted by only a handful of schools before the rise in opioid deaths, aims to educate children and families about drug abuse, officials said.
Since its inception, 41 forums attended by more than 3,500 people, including 700 teens, have taken place, officials said. More than 3,000 people have been taught how to administer naloxone, commonly known by its brand name Narcan, a now widely available treatment for opioid overdose with 2,400 kits of the drug distributed, officials said.
Parents learn how to spot evidence of drug abuse in their children and how to properly dispose prescription drugs so they are not found and abused. Officials show slides illustrating drug abuse’s toll, including deteriorated outward appearance and damage to internal organs like the heart.
“These pictures are not for shock value but we are trying to scare them,” Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “And we try to show them some of the things that we actually see in the medical examiner’s office.”
Although the number of overdose deaths has climbed steadily, Sini said the average victim is no longer a school-age child, proving the forums have helped.
Officials also credit the use of Narcan, which last year was administered more than 700 times in Suffolk to victims who would have died without the emergency medicine, Sini said.
First responders who administered Narcan also sent victims’ contact information to the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Sini said. That group then reaches out victims in an effort to get them help.
In 2016, the names of 221 overdose victims were passed along and 59 were successfully contacted, Sini said. Of those, 29 received treatment for their addiction.
Sini said he wants to expand on that by having a professional in emergency rooms who can provide treatment options to overdose patients and their families.