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Deadly opioid epidemic is focus of forum at Batavia High School

BATAVIA – The speakers at Monday’s anti-drug forum carried a unified message that resonated clearly to the 400 people – mostly students – in attendance at Batavia High School: “Heroin shows no mercy.”

“The first time, you choose; the second time the disease chooses you … and it will make you do things that you’d never thought you would ever do,” said Deanna Axe, of Camillus, Onondaga County, who shared the tragic story of her daughter, Morgan, 24, who died of a heroin overdose in November.

“She was just like you, but when the boy that she loved very much took his life while he was on the phone with her, she had trouble coping,” Axe said. “The doctor prescribed Xanax. When that didn’t numb the pain, she moved on to something else.”

What followed was a four-year battle against drug abuse, including jail time, institutionalization and finally death. “These drugs will make you go down the wrong path, and you cannot get back no matter how hard you try,” Axe said.

Axe shared how her daughter fought addiction and seemed to be making progress with a Vivitrol treatment. But when Morgan became pregnant, she went off the medication to protect the fetus. “Even the love that she had for her child couldn’t stop her from going back to the drugs once the treatment wore off,” Axe said. “I lost her and my grandson.”

Death and devastation are commonplace when prescription drug and heroin addiction come into play, said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. “I am asking you to channel your energy to take on one of the leading causes of death,” he said. “… There are demons living among us – even in our own medicine cabinets at home. It is a matter of life and death.”

Hochul pointed to the medical profession and pharmaceutical companies as reasons for the opioid epidemic. “Back in the 1990s, doctors working hand-in-hand with the pharmaceutical industry started looking at pain as a symptom that could be treated with pills,” he said.

“Before that, if you had a broken bone, they’d set your arm in a cast and, at most, give you an aspirin or a pill that didn’t have these addictive qualities – such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. Now, they’re pushing higher-potency drugs.” He said that the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population but consumes 99.9 percent of the hydrocodone.

“Are more people in pain than all the countries in the world or is something wrong in the prescribing of the drugs that are in our home?” he asked, adding that prescription pills are “nothing more than synthetic heroin.”

The forum was sponsored by @ct Genesee, a coalition promoting healthy and safe choices .“We may not be in a big city, but the problem is here,” said Anita Strollo, coalition president.