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Currier honored for drug misuse task force

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MASSENA - A locally-based rehabilitation center, Rose Hill, has honored Massena Police Chief Timmy J. Currier with the organization’s annual Public Servant Award for his work in establishing the Massena Prescription Drug Misuse Task Force, a wide-ranging community effort to combat problems associated with prescription drug abuse.

Representatives from more than a dozen different agencies, including law enforcement, the St. Lawrence County Psychiatric Center, the Massena Central School District, Rose Hill Adolescent Treatment Facility and Massena Memorial Hospital, have taken part in the MPDMTF, which held its first meeting Jan. 18.

The task force has implemented a number of measures to curb prescription drug trafficking and provide treatment for addicts. They include the installation of a prescription drug dropbox at the Massena Police station; the implementation of the SBIRT (screening, brief intervention, referral to treatment) screening tool to help physicians identify and treat substance addicts; and the implementation of narcotics agreements between practitioners and patients to combat over-prescribing powerful painkillers, which can lead to drugs getting in the hands of street dealers.

The task force has also launched a number of community education initiatives, created the We Care Walk in Center and Response Team to prevent drug-related suicides and helped push the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act through the New York state Assembly.

I-STOP is an online database that allows doctors to report and track controlled narcotics in real time. The act, which mandates doctors to use the system before prescribing schedule II, III, IV or V substances, was the first of its type in the U.S.

“It’s astonishing how much the group has been able to accomplish during its short existence,” Rose Hill Director Tina Buckley said.

Ms. Buckley said Rose Hill, which serves youth across Northern and Upstate New York, chose to honor Mr. Currier because of “the effort that the (task force) has put forth to make the community aware of issues related to prescription drug abuse.”

The task force’s public awareness initiatives include teaching community members how to safeguard their prescription medications from people who intend to sell or misuse them. This is critical to curbing prescription drug misuse because 50 percent of prescription drugs on the streets are taken from people’s homes or trash, Mr. Currier said.

Sometimes prescription drugs are taken during break-ins or by friends or family members who already have access to one’s medicine cabinet. Mr. Currier recommends discarding unused prescribed medication at the prescription drug drop-off at the Massena police station, which he said has been widely used by the community.

Other initiatives seek to make the public aware of the dangers associated with prescription drug misuse and how to help a friend or family member who is struggling with prescription substance addiction.

“Often, because it’s a doctor-prescribed substance, people don’t think they could be that dangerous,” Mr. Currier said.

The dangers of prescription drug misuse include the risks associated with committing crimes such as theft and assault, Mr. Currier said. Since 1995, criminal offenses such as theft, assault and rape increased by more than 132 percent in Massena. From 1995 to 1998, an average of 137 of these offenses occurred each year, and from 2007 to 2010, an average of 319 were committed annually.

Mr. Currier believes the increased crime is the result of drug addicts who turn to crime to pay for their expensive addictions, which often prohibit them from keeping or finding stable work.

“We have no doubts in our minds that drug activity and prescription drug misuse is causing that,” he said.

Another of those dangers is death.

Suicide rates in St. Lawrence County have risen dramatically in recent years; 24 people died of accidental lethal intoxication of medication between 2007 and 2011.

To prevent drug-related depression and suicide, the task force formed the We Care Walk in Center and Response Team, which provides in-person counseling and/or suicide intervention for whoever might need it.

“The recent loss of life associated with prescription drug misuse in our community is terrible, and I am hopeful the efforts I am proposing will reduce that significantly,” Mr. Currier wrote in a document outlining the goals of the task force. “These efforts are further intended to deal with the broad yet complex factors contributing to the problem.”

Now, after 10 months, it’s too early to see if the task force’s work has impacted prescription drug misuse, and the various problems associated with the issue. But Mr. Currier is eager to see the results as the program moves into its second year.

“I’m anxious to see how this changes the community in the next 10 months,” Mr. Currier said.

Mr. Currier’s task force has also received praise from village officials.

“Hats off to the chief. I think the chief initiated a great program, and he’s aggressively attacking the issue,” Mayor James F. Hidy said. “It’s a prestigious award. The fact he has so many agencies working together shows how critical the issue (of prescription drug misuse) is.”

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