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Astorino launches response to opioid epidemic

Westchester County has launched a new program aimed at integrating the response of several county agencies, local officials and community leaders to the growing drug abuse epidemic.

On June 7, in the Westchester County Center, County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, launched Project WORTHY: Westchester Opioid Response Teams Helping You, which he said was established to combine all of the county’s individual resources to combat a dramatic spike in opioid-related deaths over the last several years.

Heroin and opioid use has been recognized as a growing and widespread problem across Westchester County, New York state and the country; the rate of deaths caused by opioids in the county has quadrupled since 2010, according to Westchester officials.

County Executive Rob Astorino speaks at the launch of Project WORTHY: Westchester Opioid Response Teams Helping You on June 7 to fight the opioid epidemic. Photo courtesy Westchester County

Several local communities have previously established their own committees and task forces to combat drug abuse in those areas. But, according to Astorino, the goal of Project WORTHY is to transcend municipal and organizational barriers keeping key community leaders from working together to combat drug addiction.

“In Westchester, we are blessed with an abundance of resources,” the county executive said. “But, their effectiveness can be limited if they remain in geographic and bureaucratic silos.”

Project WORTHY is aimed to establish response teams made up of health professionals, law enforcement, first responders, parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, business leaders and youth to help those suffering from addiction and to educate communities about prevention, intervention and responses to addiction.

To kick off the initiative, a panel of county commissioners addressed the County Center room full of community leaders, discussing the pervasiveness of opioid addiction and the problems in confronting it. And they discussed some initiatives the county has already undertaken to address those problems, including training and arming first responders with the opioid-countering drug, naloxone, establishing anonymous drug drop-boxes at local police stations, and participating in joint federal and local task forces to take down illegal drug rings and doctors who over-prescribe opioids.

Astorino said there are four prongs to Project WORTHY: education, prevention, integration and action. According to Ned McCormack, a spokesman for the administration, those four prongs become two separate rolls for members of the response teams. Community members in teams can be dispersed to give integrated advice, helping communities to confront individual problems. The teams will also be mobilized to give informational seminars and forums, helping communities recognize signs of abuse, and discussing how to talk about and address the issues locally.

About 200 local officials and community leaders attended the program’s kickoff.

“Today was all about bringing everybody together and building the response teams and getting the ball rolling,” McCormack said.

While the program has no clear first action, county officials said getting all of those community leaders together to organize response teams was a necessary first step.

Astorino said, “Opioid addiction can be stopped. We will continue to fight, and Project WORTHY can make us more effective.

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