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As Overdoses Rise, Westchester Wages War On Heroin

Scott Gillet, who runs a treatment facility in Briarcliff Manor, has seen the heroin epidemic first hand. Photo Credit: Courtesy of BIRD
Westchester Commissioner of Public Safety George Longworth announcing the arrest of 20 people in January on charges of selling heroin in Westchester. Photo Credit: Sam Barron

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- In Westchester County, heroin usage has become an epidemic.

Westchester County Police arrested 23 people in January for selling heroin , following a year-long investigation. Police seized more than $1 million worth of heroin in the bust.

That same week, Reid Kasunic, a Croton-Harmon High School graduate, became the latest Westchester resident to die of a heroin overdose . In 2014, two Cortlandt residents died within six days from overdosing on heroin.

State Sen. Terrence Murphy, (R-40th District), whose district includes much of Northern Westchester was recently named one of the chairs of a State Legislature joint task force on heroin and opioid addiction.

At a forum in January in Mount Pleasant, Murphy unveiled his seven-point plan to combat heroin in the area. Murphy's plan includes requiring insurance companies to cover treatment and rehab up to 90 days and using drug-seizure money toward Narcan training. Narcan is used by first responders to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Scott Gillet, creator and founder of the Briarcliff Institute For Recovery And Development (BIRD), an outpatient program, has been on the front lines of Westchester's war on heroin, witnessing it first-hand.

Gillet said kids are moving away from Oxycontin because of increased regulation on prescription drugs.

"Heroin is very easy to get," Gillet said. "Even in Briarcliff."

Heroin does not affect kids considered either bad or good, but kids with altered brain chemistry, Gillet said. At BIRD, patients go through individual, family and group therapy as well as a nutrient therapy to deal with withdrawals and cravings.

"The county is in an epidemic," Gillet said. "The death rates are going up alarmingly."

When it comes to kicking the habit, Gillet said jail and punishment do not work.

"You have to give them alternatives to drugs and deal with their inner mechanisms," Gillet said. "They need to understand how they are feeling and why they are craving heroin."

Gillet said Westchester is losing talented young people to heroin.

"We have a responsibility to support them and get them into recovery," Gillet said. "Punishment just reinforces shame and that they are no good. Getting them into treatment and recovery supports them and helps them deal with  their problem."

Signs of heroin use include pinned pupils, sudden changes in behavior, weight loss and shortness of breath.

Gillet said if parents suspect their child is using heroin, they should call a treatment center immediately.

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