Phillips, Northwell host opioid epidemic educational session

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Jeff Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family and Children's Association, spoke about the opioid epidemic at a session hosted by state Sen. Elaine Phillips and Northwell Health on Tuesday. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas had a message to parents: act like parents.

During an educational session about the opioid epidemic on Tuesday organized by state Sen. Elaine Phillips and Northwell Health, Singas said parents need to take personal responsibility and action in their children’s lives.

She said parents are often involved Monday through Thursday in their children’s lives – picking the best coaches, tutors and classes to help their children get to college.

When the weekend rolls around, parents often turn a blind eye and let their children go to parties where they’re likely drinking, Singas said.

“All the work you’re putting in Monday through Thursday you’re throwing out the window, because if these kids develop substance abuse problems that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” Singas said. “So let’s wake up, and let’s make sure that we’re knowledgeable, we’re talking to our kids, and we’re helping them cope with all the anxieties and pressures.”

There were an estimated 600 opioid deaths in Long Island in 2017, according to Phillips’ office.

The responsibility doesn’t solely lie on the shoulders of parents, though. There needs to be a combined effort between community members, law enforcement, health care providers and schools, said Jeff Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association.

On the panel, Phillips, Singas and Reynolds were joined by Steven Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, director of Northwell Health’s screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment program, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Robert Evans.

Evans, a 37-year-old business owner from Hicksville, shared his personal story of addiction and his long-term recovery.

“Ten years ago I never thought I’d be sitting up here with the police commissioner or district attorney of Nassau County,” Evans said. “If you got to see some of the trouble I caused myself from 13 years old to about 27.”

Chassman said the event brought together the “microcosm of how you turn the corner on health care pandemics.”

The common message among members of the panel was the need to change the conversation and language surrounding the issue.

Even the phrase “the opioid epidemic” poses issue, Kapoor said.

Instead, Kapoor suggested, it should be called “our epidemic.”

“Because it truly is our epidemic,” Kapoor said. “It’s affecting everybody, the fact that we call it that allows us to play that blame game that drives us into that state of inaction.”

One problem that Reynolds said is specifically targeting a younger audience is vaping.

Singas said vape pens can look like USB cables, and parents might not even be aware of what they are.

“Plug it into the computer, if it doesn’t work it’s not a USB cable,” Singas said.

She also said her children tell her all the time students are vaping in school when the teacher turns his or her back.

Since the highly addictive substance is odorless, Reynolds said, kids are vaping all the time.

Originally marketed as a safer alternative and a way for adult smokers to kick their habit, vape pens have since become a trend with middle and high school students.

Devices are sold in a variety of colors and the liquid is sold in different flavors.

“Did we not learn anything when it comes to tobacco because we’re making some of the very same mistakes over and over again,” Reynolds said.

Chassman also said that children are attached to their devices.

He added that because vaping is done individually, it takes away any social element.

“This is an individual vaping for own self-medication,” Chassman said.

With 2,815 deaths from opioid overdoses reported in New York state in 2015, according to the state Department of Health, the problem can seem hopeless.

But, Reynolds said, there is good news – “we know this problem is preventable.”

Reynolds said that New York was slow to respond to the epidemic, and is now trying to catch up.

However, he said, things are beginning to fire up.

“We’re on the brink of a tipping point …” Reynolds said. “The only way we solve this is if we solve this together.”

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