By Assemblyman Will Barclay
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, use of illicit drugs in the United States has been increasing.
In their Nationwide Trends report (updated January, 2014), in 2012 an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older, approximately 9% of the population, had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month.
While these are national trends, locally there are health department reports and anecdotal stories that indicate use of certain illicit drugs in the Central New York is also on the rise.
For example, the NYS Health Department recently released a report that found that Onondaga County has the highest rate of drug-addicted infants in the state.
A newborn baby can become addicted to drugs when the baby’s mother uses drugs during pregnancy.
According to the report, for every 1,000 babies born in Onondaga County, 26 have medical issues as a result of the mother’s use of drugs during pregnancy.
This is five times the national rate.
The medical, economic and social consequences of drug-addicted infants is substantial and it is tragic that our area leads the state in this category.
Another tragedy that has been in the local news as of late is the increased use of heroin.
Media in the North Country and in Central New York have reported on this increase and the number of heroin overdoses has increased substantially over the past few years, indicating that usage is also increasing.
Apparently, there are a number of reasons for this increase of usage.
First, apparently the price for heroin has declined making the drug more affordable than it had been in prior years.
Second, over the last decade or so, doctors have been increasingly prescribing strong opioid-based medication for pain.
Many patients who either built up a tolerance to pain medicine or whose prescription for pain medications runs out, then turn to heroin as a strong and cheap alternative.
Interestingly, some professionals involved in treating and fighting drug addiction point to the state’s recently enacted I-STOP law as also a reason for the increase in heroin use.
I-STOP went into effect last year and it requires doctors to check a patient’s history of controlled substance use through an online registry before prescribing drugs such as oxycodone.
The idea is to stop addicts from doctor shopping and stocking up on prescriptions from multiple doctors.
The good news is that the law seems to be working, the bad news is because addicts can no longer get large amounts of prescription drugs they are now turning to heroin.
Another public health concern is synthetic drugs, which are also poisonous and addictive.
Last week, I held a press conference in Albany on legislation I sponsor that would strengthen penalties against synthetic drug use and sales.
In many cases, public safety officials are only able to charge those in possession with a public health law violation.
Many people do not know the dangers of these synthetics either, as many are sold in retail stores and marketed for our youth.
We need to bolster these penalties so people know the dangers and get them out of retail stores.
Clearly, we have to continue to be vigilant about this increased drug usage.
The fight against drug usage and addiction needs to be undertaken at many different levels.
First, there needs to be support for drug prevention programs (such as DARE) especially in our schools.
Statistics show that most people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers and if we can discourage use at that time maybe that will prevent future experimentation or use, especially with more dangerous drugs.
Second, there needs to be appropriate funding for drug treatment so that those who are addicted can get help and hopefully be able to control their addictions.
Third, we need to ensure that we have laws in place that appropriately punish those who manufacture and sell illicit drugs.
Lastly, we need to be wary of the move to decriminalize drugs.
We see the abuse of currently legal drugs like prescription medicines, alcohol and tobacco.
Why would we believe that adding to this list will decrease abuse?
If anything, the opposite will happen.
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.