It's time for an all-out assault on heroin

Maureen Ledden Rossi is president of Kings Park in the kNOw, a grassroots movement to eradicate illegal drug sales in the Kings Park community. Long Island's dirty little secret is out. Heroin is here in a big way, addicting too many of our teens and young adults and ravaging families Islandwide. Heroin is an unfamiliar enemy for most baby boomer and Gen-X parents - it wasn't part of the fabric of our drug culture. But our society's love affair with pharmaceuticals has lined the shelves of suburban medicine cabinets with an array of magic bullets, and the barrage of prescription drug ads over the past decade has influenced a generation unambivalent about popping a pill. The Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet pilfered from Mom and Dad's supply can set off a teen's opiate addiction. Once kids are hooked and their prescription reservoir runs dry, the pills are costly on the street - but a bag of H can be found for as little as $5. The purity of today's heroin allows kids to snort it or smoke it, and it doesn't seem to pose a stigma for this generation. So how do we fight one of the most addictive drugs known to man? We need evidence-based prevention education in schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Such programs, backed by concrete data, are shown to decrease risky behavior. The onus shouldn't fall entirely on schools, but they have the potential to be an integral part of the prevention solution. We also need to educate parents about this deadly drug, and involve the faith and business communities in the dialogue. As grassroots movements and drug task forces continue to rise up in Long Island communities, everyone must be invited to the table. And, given kids' media savvy, we have to mount a podcasting, Facebooking, YouTubing, Tweeting fight against heroin. Information powerhouses like or Above the Influence offer links to free videos, public service announcements and podcasts. Groups can Tweet or use Facebook to post snippets - facts about drugs and substance abuse. Small blasts of data will help educate more people and create more dialogues. But for many families, such prevention efforts will come too late. So we also need viable treatment options - enough beds to treat young addicts who want to get clean, and options for kids and young adults who aren't insured. The current bureaucracy leaves many desperate parents lost in the labyrinth of family services, the court system, probation or treatment. Parents may seek an order of protection to keep their heroin-addicted teen from using it on the family property, for instance, in an effort to protect younger siblings. But if that teen gets locked up or mandated to treatment, the parents may then be unable to visit their child. So a system must be in place to abolish the protection order in these cases. Law enforcement officials should focus on what they were trained to do - getting the criminals. The good news is that they have been. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota recently announced a heroin task force after the largest heroin bust in the county's history, and Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has been front and center in the battle since she took office in 2006. But sometimes there is no big bad heroin wolf. Today's dealer doesn't have a specific corner for cops to monitor - the locales change with a quick text message, making dealing harder to detect in our neighborhoods. What's more, much of the heroin that makes it to our communities and high schools is delivered by local kids, who drive into Queens and Brooklyn to score to feed their own addictions. Everyone wants to nail the drug dealers, but do we really want to incarcerate these nonviolent addicts? They need help. The great brain drain has long been considered one of Long Island's fundamental problems. But our most perilous problem isn't young people's exodus in search of affordable housing and jobs - it's their exodus in search of the ultimate high. If we are going to beat this thing - and it is incumbent on all of us to beat it - we must have an Islandwide forum and come up with regional solutions to the heroin epidemic. It's time for action.
Contact:  Digits:  917.975.4324