Fighting drug abuse through education

Posted at: 12/02/2013 11:34 PM
By: Dan Levy

AVERILL PARK - Drug counselors in Averill Park are hoping the remedy for heroin addiction is a mixture of awareness and communication, hence their effort to stem a drug epidemic through education.

The challenge, according to drug counselors, is greater than ever. Heroin addiction is growing, users are getting younger, and too many people (especially parents) are oblivious to it and are "living in a bubble."

According to Jennifer O'Neil-Haggerty, a substance abuse counselor at Averill Park High School, heroin abuse is running rampant throughout the country. In her community, she says at least five young people have died in recent years fro heroin overdoses.

"I think where there's a crisis, people want to be educated," O'Neil- Haggerty asserts, "but we have to keep it going."

O'Neil-Haggerty moderated a community discussion on the proliferation and dangers of drug abuse on Monday night at the West Sand Lake Fire House.

"I don't want to say it in a mean way, but we live in a bubble sometimes," she says, "It's only what's going on in our immediate families and we don't recognize other things in the community but our children are exposed to all those other things that are happening every day."

On the law enforcement front, Sergeant Shane Holcomb, of the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Office, says drug related crimes are on the rise.

"A lot of property crimes that we see are obviously driven by the need to fuel the drug addictions," he says.

The educational effort comes at a time when other states have legalized marijuana, which, like alcohol, experts say is a "gateway" drug that often leads to heroin abuse.

"It's very hard to talk to them about the dangers of marijuana because of all the mixed messages they're getting," says Tina Anne, a middle school drug counselor.

Averill Park junior Jake Glasser says he wants to make sure none of his friends get involved with drugs and he's certain Monday night's meeting will have an impact on them.

"Hopefully they see me come to these and they'll hopefully come with me," Glasser says. "That way it can really get out there and really help everybody."

O'Neil-Haggerty says according to surveys 25% of the high school population has used drugs in the last thirty days. She reiterates: addiction is not a character flaw, it simply means someone needs help, which is what she intends to do.