The article “IDing mental illness” [News, March 21] confuses the meaningful goal of educating lay people about understanding and assisting people showing mental health symptoms amid the serious opioid epidemic on Long Island.

Mental Health First Aid, a nationally endorsed curriculum, is an important initiative that has the potential to increase our public dialogue. It doesn’t, however, attempt to address the underpinnings of addiction to heroin or other opioids.

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Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that all people suffering from opioid addiction have an underlying mental illness. It may satisfy our need to simplify a complex and sometimes overwhelming societal problem, but it’s also untrue.

The reality is that we all have some level of risk when it comes to the powerfully addictive properties of heroin and other opioids. Similar to other lifestyle-related health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes, our level of risk depends on biological, psychological and social influences. Vulnerability to addiction often has little to do with psychological issues.

Art Flescher, East Islip

Editor’s note: The writer is the former director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services.