by India Perez-Urbano
The opioid epidemic isn’t a problem that happens somewhere else. It’s happening here in Rockland County–and even in Nyack, too.
Last year, Rockland County lost 35 lives to opioid overdose, an 875% increase since 2003. Among 8th and 10th grade students in the Nyack School system, the use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes is more than double the county average.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Heroin and prescription opioid abuse is a growing issue locally and nationally, and in the past decade, heroin use has more than doubled among 18 to 25 year olds. This rise in use has been largely attributed to the heightened misuse—and over-prescription—of prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin.
Nyack Schools administers an anonymous, biennial survey that assesses patterns of drug use among 8th and 10th graders. In 2014, survey results found that the percentage of 10th graders from Nyack High School self-reporting prescription drug use for nonmedical purposes (in the past 30 days) was 159% higher than the rest of Rockland County. Similarly, the percentage of 10th graders from Nyack High School self-reporting heroin use (in the past 30 days) was 133% higher than Rockland County, and 200% higher than the national average.
As the epidemic continues to grow, new trends in heroin use have been uncovered. One national study found that, of the individuals who began using heroin in 2014, 90% were White (compared to 57% in 1980), 75% were introduced to heroin by prescription opioids (compared to 30% in 1980) and 75% resided in suburban or rural areas.
As a Nyack High School graduate myself, these numbers are more than somber statistics to me. In the past few years, Nyack High School has lost several alumni to drug overdose. And I have reason to believe that non-medical use of prescription drugs is under-reported.
During my senior year of college, I worked as a volunteer in Boston to improve the lives and safety of people who use opioids. Upon graduation, I returned to Rockland County to continue this work and address the growing opioid epidemic in my hometown.
There is a significant resource gap in Rockland to help people who use opioids, regardless of their stage in recovery. Rockland Connects, a non-profit I started last fall, was created to help close this gap by providing nonjudgmental services dedicated to supporting people and connecting them to local resources. It is important to understand that this epidemic affects everyone, and it is our responsibility to uplift conversations in our community around collaborating to minimize the harms associated with active drug use and reduce overdose deaths.
Rockland Connects hosts weekly coffee and drop-in hours at the Nyack Center for people impacted by the opioid epidemic. We meet every Monday night between 6:30-8:30pm. In addition, we offer free overdose reversal training and Narcan kits. We are also conducting informal interviews with people who use drugs and those in recovery to better understand opioid use in Rockland County and what services are needed.
I’d like to invite you to join the conversation about opioid use in our community at 7pm on March 29 at the Nyack Library. Rockland Connects has invited a panel of speakers for Q&A and discussion around opioid addiction and youth. We will hear from three people in recovery, as well as Dr. Alain Litwin, a Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. We encourage young adults and high school students to join us in this important conversation.
India Perez-Urbano is the founder of Rockland Connects. She graduated from Nyack High School in 2008 and Harvard University in 2016. You can contact India at RocklandConnects@gmail.com or (845) 535 1221.