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Editorial: Unending battle -- pain pills give way to heroin

Residents can safely dispose of expired or unused

Residents can safely dispose of expired or unused medications during a “Shed the Meds” event on Saturday. Credit: Newsday, 2012 / Audrey C. Tiernan

When it comes to drug addiction and overdoses, you have to take your good news where you can get it, and do so knowing there may be a bit of bad news to go with it.

Opiate overdose deaths on Long Island dropped 8 percent from 2011 to 2012, from 366 to 338. Officials say a crackdown on prescription pain medication and its improper distribution by doctors and pharmacies has dried up the illicit supply of hydrocodone and oxycodone and driven up prices on the street.

But there's an unintended result: Some addicts who preferred the pills have moved on to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get. The result is that heroin overdose deaths on Long Island climbed 83 percent from 2010 to 2012, from 60 to 110.

The crackdown on pills followed the shooting deaths of four people at a Medford pharmacy by opiate addict David Laffer during a robbery in June 2011, and the killing of federal agent John Capano at a Seaford pharmacy during another drug robbery six months later. A new state database is being put in place to track prescriptions in real time, and doctors prescribing and dealers distributing the drugs illegally have been arrested.

So now in this game of addiction Whac-A-Mole, attention will switch back to heroin, and hopefully progress will be made. There is good news: Total opiate overdoses are down. But there's no time to stop and cheer. The battle is constant, and constantly changing.

Drug addiction isn't a problem society is going to defeat anytime soon. Addressing it and containing it are about the best we can hope for.