Reporter editorial: The opioid epidemic continues

COURTESY ILLUSTRATION

From 2006 to 2012, manufacturers shipped 76 billion opioid pills to pharmacies nationwide. More than 3.3 billion were shipped to New York State during that period. Of that total, 345 million pills were sent to Suffolk County.

These astonishing numbers from the federal government were published this month in The Washington Post. The numbers show that, during that period, manufacturers were shipping the equivalent of 36 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills per person per year nationwide. In Suffolk County, it breaks down to 33 pills per man, woman and child per year.

Shelter Island, like every other community in the county, has not been spared. The Shelter Island Police Department reported that from 2013 to end of July this year there were 31 overdoses and eight Narcan saves on the Island.

Court filings in different jurisdictions in America have shown that the manufacturers and distributors knew full well what they were doing, and knew the consequences of flooding the country with highly dangerous pain pills. They didn’t care. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn. They put massive profits before people — in spite of the horrific death toll.

During that 2006-2012 period, there were 100,000 overdose deaths nationwide. Jump ahead to 2017, the data shows there were 47,000 deaths nationwide in that one year.

In Suffolk in 2017, there were 424 overdose deaths. A Newsday story published earlier this month showed that 147 people died in Nassau County as a result of overdose in 2018; Suffolk reported 308 fatal overdoses in 2018. Newsday’s reporting showed that the Suffolk figures do not include 91 suspected overdose deaths in 2018 that have yet to be classified as such by the medical examiner’s office.

We have asked Suffolk health department officials to break down the death numbers by town and hamlet, but they have declined, citing privacy reasons. We didn’t ask for names, we asked for data so that our readers could know the death toll in our towns and hamlets. We have reported on a number of deaths in our newspapers, as have the other East End weeklies that are part of the East End News Project, which was formed to report on the opioid epidemic.

Overdose deaths on Long Island are falling, in large part because of the use of Narcan by first responders. As our first responders here know, they have administered Narcan multiple times to the same person — possibly saving that person’s life each time. The Shelter Island Emergency Medical Services, as part of a pilot program run by New York State, became one of the groundbreaking EMS units in the state to employ Narcan inhalers.

The opioid epidemic is one of the most serious and heartbreaking stories in recent memory. It has touched so many families in our area. Many families here have buried a child, only to watch another of their children battle the same addiction.

This, of course, makes the massive amount of pills manufactured and distributed all the more obscene. Court proceedings around the country to hold the manufacturers and distributors accountable for their role in this epidemic are thoroughly justified.

We will continue to report on and publish stories about this epidemic.

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