Dominican College’s Fifth Annual Healthcare Symposium, “The Opioid Epidemic: What you need to know” drew a crowd of interested health care professionals, educators, concerned parents, and students to the Fury Lecture Hall in the Prusmack Center on Wednesday, November 15.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe was the keynote speaker at the evening symposium and said in 2016, more than 64,000 people across the U.S. died from overdoses, and 75% of the overdoses were from opioid-based drugs. “I can’t think of anything that’s more topical and more important. We are in a crisis. We are in an epidemic here in Rockland County and well beyond,” he said.
Zugibe stressed that the opioid crisis was unique to the U.S. because although the U.S. has 5 % of the world’s population, Americans use 90% of opioid painkillers. He blamed pharmaceutical companies for creating the problem with an aggressive marketing campaign to convince doctors that the opioid drugs were safe for long-term use and non-addictive. However, most people addicted to heroin begin by taking opioid prescription drugs.
There is no easy solution, said Zugibe, but officials are tackling the problem from a number of fronts, including aggressive law enforcement and treatment programs like the Rockland County Drug Court. He said the biggest focus going forward must be on prevention. “We have to get much better at educating and stopping these individuals from starting with it in the first place and that’s really where the focus is,” he said. “One of the key areas we’ve decided to focus on is doctors – educating doctors to change their prescribing methods.”
A panel of experts discussed services available in Rockland County and answered questions from the audience. The symposium was moderated by Joan Facelle, M.D., M.P.H., Former Commissioner of Health for Rockland County.