NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A medical examiner’s work is grim and done behind closed doors. The results are not shared with the public. But Dr. Michael Caplan wants people to see what he sees every day.
“It’s impossible not to be affected in some way. So that’s why being up front about it is to let people know while there’s still a chance,” he tells WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Suffolk County is losing a generation to opioids, heroin and now the stronger synthetic variations of fentanyl.
Learn More: Killer Tide. The Opioid Epidemic
The county saw more than 300 opioid-related deaths in 2016, and first responders there used the overdose reversing drug Narcan 700 times.
“Let me put it this way — we do the best that we can do with the staff that we have. It definitely puts a strain on our resources,” Caplan says.
The county has had success hosting so-called “ugly truth” forums, where parents learn to detect the signs of drug abuse in their children, and kids are shown images that graphically illustrate the toll opioid use can take on their bodies.
“We’re trying our best in different ways to deal with this problem. But I look at the medical examiner’s office as a powerful way to try to induce primary prevention by letting families and children know this is what happens,” Caplan says.
Watch: Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini addresses the opioid epidemic
Long Island’s opioid crisis shows no sign of letting up.
“As police commissioner, I’ve identified this issue as the top public health, public safety issue facing the county,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini tells Diamond.
With the help of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Sini has gone after large-scale narcotics and drug traffickers. He’s also taking a different approach to low-level dealers and those who commit robberies or burglaries to fuel their addictions by partnering with rehab centers.
“A professional, someone who’s trained in coaching people into treatment, would essentially say, ‘Look, your name came to me from the Suffolk County police department, and you’re on their radar. So you can either go down that route that’s going to end with you in handcuffs, or you can go into treatment,'” Sini says.
Addicts who do end up in jail are being offered a new option when their sentences are up — a non-opioid medication that ends the intense cravings.
“I just knew when I first got here it was just something that I had to get,” one woman told Diamond. “I felt like it was the missing link.”
Medications like Suboxone and Methadone get addicts on the path to recovery. Now doctors, clinics and jails are having success with non-opioid, nonaddictive treatments.
Marla Diamond will have more on that as our Killer Tide special report series continues next week.