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News Release    

July 29, 2010      

For Further Information Contact:
Mary Ellen Still, Chair of the Criminal Justice Council
(845) 486-2600

Heroin Overdose Deaths on the Rise
Addiction often starts at home in the medication cabinet

Poughkeepsie… The Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council (CJC) is warning about an increase in illegal drug use in the region and an increased number of deaths resulting from heroin overdoses.   The CJC is encouraging residents, particularly parents and caregivers, to take steps in their own homes to prevent addiction by monitoring what is kept in the medicine cabinet.   According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.   Dutchess County is not immune from this growing problem, and the CJC warns that many young people who have become addicted to heroin actually started by abusing prescription drugs.   

Criminal Justice Council Chairperson Mary Ellen Still said, “Across the country, there is a growing problem with youth using prescription pain medications pilfered from home medicine cabinets.  These medications are often ‘gateway’ drugs that can quickly become addicting and that addiction can lead to heroin use.”

According to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, 2,500 teenagers use a prescription drug to get high for the first time every day.   Teens abuse prescription drugs because they are easily accessible, and either free or inexpensive. In fact, 64 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 who have abused pain relievers say they got them from their friends or relatives, typically without their knowledge.   This can lead to a growing drug habit where teens collect prescription drug pills to sell them for even more potent drugs such as heroin.

The possibility of heroin addiction is a significant concern for the CJC as data from the Dutchess County Medical Examiner’s Office illustrates the reality of heroin related deaths which increased to 13 confirmed cases in 2009 as compared to six confirmed cases between 2007 and 2008.  Dutchess County Medical Examiner Dr. Kari Reiber is currently assisting the NYS Law Enforcement Task Force investigation of heroin usage in New York State.  According to Dr. Reiber, “Exhaustive toxicology studies suggest the current heroin on the streets is more pure and therefore even more deadly.  Drugs users, who are lured by heroin’s cheap street price, may be unaware of its lethal effect.”   

Parents are the best defense against teen drug abuse.    Studies have shown that children who learn about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs, yet only one-third of parents discuss the risks of abusing prescription medicines with their teens.   CJC Chairperson Still offers these important steps for parents and caregivers.

  • Talk to kids about the dangers of all drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medications.   For ideas on how to get started, visit, a website of the Partnership for a Drug Free America

  • Know what is in your medicine cabinet:  keep an inventory of what medications you have and how many pills are in each.    Track prescription refills, if you are refilling more than expected; there could be a problem.

  • Keep all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet.

  • Dispose of any unused or expired medications.   Never flush medication down the toilet.  Safely dispose of medications by bringing them to one of the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency’s monthly Safe Medication Disposal Days.  Complete schedule can be found here:

  • Learn more about community coalitions in Dutchess County and get involved, contact the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education (CAPE) at (845) 471-0194.

  • For those feeling depressed, anxious or fearful about their teens possible drug use, call HELPLINE, 485-9700 (Toll fee: 1-877-485-9700), the DC Department of Hygiene’s 24-hour, 7 days a week phone service with trained caring mental health professionals.  HELPLINE provides crisis counseling, information, referral service, as well as appointments for outpatient mental health and chemical dependency clinics for both children and adults.

Other community efforts to the address the growing trend of teen prescription drug abuse include:

  • Community coalitions have formed in both eastern (Pine Plains, Webutuck, Dover and Pawling) and northern (Rhinebeck and Red Hook) Dutchess County, bringing together a diverse group of family members, school personnel, businessmen and professionals. These have held community forums and focus groups to learn more about the trends of drug abuse in their local areas.  8th, 10 and 12th grade students in these districts have recently completed the Youth Asset surveys and the results should provide valuable insight about student attitudes and behaviors.   This data will then be used to develop a prevention and intervention strategy, specific to the individual communities.

  • The Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene will co-sponsor a conference with the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education (CAPE) in October for doctors, lawyers, parent groups, school and provider representatives to discuss the issues involved in prescription drug abuse and heroin use for both adults and youth.  Keynote speaker will be John Coppola, President, NYS Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.

The Criminal Justice Council engages in a collaborative process of information sharing to maximize resources resulting in an enhanced criminal justice process. This work is done through utilizing research based practices to ensure community safety through the promotion and support of:  intervention for at-risk youth and adults; addressing victims’ needs; and reduction of recidivism in a committee structure involving law enforcement, government agencies and community partners.


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Last Updated: 7/29/2010