Everyone is separated from actor Kevin Bacon by six degrees, so the joke goes, but sadly, the heroin and opioid crisis does not have as many levels before it touches us all.
Everyone I speak with knows someone or has loved ones who suffered a tragic fatal overdose. Be they celebrities, executives, politicians, skilled or unskilled workers, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters or cousins, none are immune from being affected by the disease of addiction, especially heroin.
So many stories tear at the hearts of individuals and families. A grandparent loses a 20 something grandchild, a father finds his son dead of an overdose from his very first use of heroin. Best friends are burying each other. Each story is unique, yet founded in a crisis of epic proportions.
Nassau and Suffolk counties – a bit more in Suffolk – are leading the list of geographic areas suffering the most. In 2016, Long Island reportedly suffered 539 deaths due to opioids, primarily heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Total opioid deaths have increased by two and one-half times since 2010.
The problem has been building, but now that we have public awareness of the crisis, we need to advance the strategy to combat it. Long Island cannot afford to become complacent and lose so many of our young people, jeopardizing our future.
The long list of those I’ve discussed the issue with, from law enforcement leaders to anti-drug advocates, just scratches the surface of those trying to stem the tide of these preventable deaths. Our actions must reach across all social, economic, political, ethnic and religious groups, organizations and individuals so that we act in a unified effort that will be greater than the sum of the parts.
If we can create a realistic plan and execute it according to our expertise, financial ability and energy, many lives can be saved. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials need to step up prosecution of those who divert prescription fentanyl, which is often illicitly acquired from overseas and makes today’s heroin weak by comparison to the old days.
We also need to recognize that despite widespread efforts to legalize marijuana, it may
still be a gateway to heroin. All business sectors are impacted by this epidemic every day in lost employees, workplace disruption when one of the team dies, revenue lost while workers grieve, theft by addicts, violent robberies and murders at the hands of addicts.
There is no escaping, we are all affected and it will take all of us working together to eradicate the crisis and save our neighbors from anguish and loss of their loved ones.
Greg Demetriou is president and CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications.