Monroe County’s uphill battle against the opioid crisis

By Brandon Feehan:

The answer to the opioid epidemic in Monroe County could be the use of another illicit drug. Tax revenue from recreational marijuana could be used to combat opioids and help educators keep children drug free.

Opioids such as codeine, fentanyl, tramadol and oxycodone are typically prescribed for pain management. This is the standard medical practice most health practitioners follow in the United States. Unfortunately, abuse of opioids can ultimately lead to addiction as well as fatal overdose. States like Colorado may have stumbled upon a brilliant solution that could both impact Monroe County as well as students at Brockport Central School District.

According to 2017 statistics from the Monroe County Heroin Task Force, 262 people have suffered an opioid overdose in Monroe County from Jan. 1 through March 31. Of those, 42 people have died. Additionally, Naloxone, or the opioid overdose reversal drug, was administered 937 times in Monroe County from 2015 through 2017. Opioid overdoses have ravaged families, leading to numerous ideas on how to combat the crisis.

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Colorado may have stumbled upon a new way to fight the opioid crisis.The legalization of marijuana has led to drastic changes in Colorado. Marijuana was decriminalized in the state with  the passing of a new amendment in 2012. From 2000 to 2015, Colorado saw an increase in opioid-related deaths. However, according to colorado.gov, a 6 percent decrease in opioid related deaths occurred in 2016, with a 23 percent increase in heroin-related deaths.

Gary Metz, who has a master’s degree in health administration as well as numerous years of experience as a law enforcement officer in Miami-Dade county, believes that the correlation between legalization of marijuana and the decline of opioid related deaths is real. But Metz also echoes caution.“We can’t look at one equation in isolation, we need to look at the whole thing overall,” Metz said.

Metz said he believes that all statistics must be carefully analyzed to give New York a clear outlook on legal marijuana’s potential to help fight the opioid crisis. As a citizen of Monroe County, Metz offered some insight into the potential and importance of drug prevention programs.

“I think we need a very strong prevention based program in schools and communities,” Metz said.

Metz expressed his displeasure with the exodus of drug education in public schools. He believes that drug prevention programs such as drug abuse resistance education, or D.A.R.E are paramount when combating the opioid crisis in Monroe County.

Bob Zerby Jr., chief investigator at the office of the Medical Examiner of Monroe County, believes in stringent education as well.

“Drug education has to not only cover the bad naughty stuff on the street, but also things in general,”  Zerby Jr. said. He believes that drug education programs should be funded more to combat the opioid epidemic.

Superintendent of Brockport Central School District, Lesli Myers discussed how Brockport schools aim to help educate students on opioids.

“There’s a couple of programs that we have, certainly students are required to take health[classes] in elementary, middle and high school,” said Myers. “[Brockport central schools] are required that kids get information formally through the curriculum.”

Myers, who has been the Superintendent at Brockport Central School District for six years explained how additional funding could potentially impact the battle against opioids.

“We could always use more [funding],” Myers said.. “It’s also what we decide as a local community to prioritize. So, we do have a drug counselor we allocate funds towards, but I would love to see additional funding for additional councilors.”

Since legalization in 2012, the Colorado marijuana industry has been booming, producing over $500 million in tax revenue. With the potential for half a billion dollars in tax revenue, New York voters may legalize marijuana in future elections. Zerby Jr. said that tax revenue could potentially go to schools for drug education programs, but is worried that New York government will mishandle the tax revenue. “If they did it wisely it would potentially be a good idea,” Zerby Jr. said.

Monroe County, like so many other counties facing the opioid crisis, could potentially gain from the legalization of marijuana. However, Metz and Zerby Jr. said they want the public to remain cautious due to the negative aspects of marijuana. Both men agreed that marijuana can be attributed for the increase of driving fatalities in Colorado as well as serving as a  gateway drug to other potentially fatal drugs.

The potential for legal marijuana to combat the opioid crisis in Monroe County could save lives through the funding of comprehensive drug education. However, the residents of Monroe County must educate themselves and do a cost-benefit-analysis of their own. Whether legal marijuana hits the streets or not, is up to voters and law makers. But the potential to educate and save lives is also on the ballot.

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