This week, representatives from the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) and the East Hampton Police Department addressed Upper School students, parents, and members of the community during two informative discussions about the risks and liabilities of substance use. “Our nation is in the midst of a bona fide public health emergency,” said Lauren Navarra of LICADD, speaking of the national opioid crisis. Within New York state, Suffolk County has been the hardest hit. Increased accessibility, availability, and drug potency have contributed to a rise in drug problems, and they’ve resulted in a staggering effect on the local community.
“Because people start to experiment with substances around middle and high school, we emphasize cultivating good decision-making skills and learning positive methods for handling stress and anxiety with students,” said Amanda Cioffi, LICADD’s Education and Training Supervisor.
If you were unable to attend the lecture, here are some takeaways:
The biggest risk factor is the unknown. Both Lauren and East Hampton Police Department’s School Resource Officer Ken Alversa agreed that one of the biggest risks in the landscape of substance use is the unknown. According to Lauren, people’s perceptions of substance use have not kept up with the changes to the landscape, ultimately leading them to underestimate the risk involved with such behaviors. Most of today’s illicit substances are chemically altered and significantly stronger than previous versions. Altered strains of marijuana can contain as much as 99% THC, the compound responsible for the “high” feeling, and other drugs have a high probability of being laced with additional substances, such as carfentanil, a large-animal tranquilizer more than 10,000 times stronger than morphine that can cause death even in microdoses. “People experimenting with substances, or even considering it, need to understand that the results can be fatal,” Ken said.
Be aware of the signs of substance abuse. Early intervention can save lives. According to Lauren, the time it takes for a person to become addicted to a substance has increased dramatically, from six to eight years on average, to six months to one year. For that reason, it’s critical that parents, friends, and educators understand how addiction progresses in order to intervene rapidly. A person may recognize their own growing dependency on a substance if they can no longer control how much and how frequently they use, experience compulsive cravings, or continue to use despite their use causing negative consequences. A person suffering from substance dependency will likely experience isolating behavior, a decline in their physical appearance, and problems in their relationships with others.
Understand your legal risks and protections. According to the Suffolk County Department of Health, due to such factors as the wider availability of treatments such as Narcan, the number of opioid-related overdose reversals has more than doubled, from 325 to 681, over the last four years. One of more important factors in preventing death by overdose is early intervention. In 2013, New York passed a Good Samaritan Law, encouraging people to call 911 without fear of arrest in the event that they or someone else needs medical intervention for a drug or alcohol overdose. The law protects everyone, regardless of age, except in rare circumstances. On the other hand, the Social Host Law holds those over the age of 18 who are in the presence of underage alcohol use—whether or not they aware of its occurrence—liable for legal consequences. Similar punitive laws exist for those who provide cigarette and other tobacco products those under New York’s legal purchasing age of 21.
The most significant takeaway from the presentations, however, was that even though substances entice users with the promise of physical or emotional escape, they are not a viable way of life. “We all experience a wide variety of feelings every day,” Lauren said, “but the key to staying safe is learning from an early age how to healthfully and effectively manage our uncomfortable emotions.”
For information about LICADD and its resources, please visit www.licadd.org