Drugs recovered thanks to tips from Crime Stoppers. File photo from SCPD

By Victoria Espinoza

The fight against substance abuse among young people on the North Shore and around Suffolk County is set to enter the 21st century.

Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) launched efforts for the county to develop a smartphone application at the June 20 legislative meeting that will provide users with quick and easy access to drug addiction services. It will also provide information on how to recognize and prevent opioid overdoses for families who are struggling with how to protect their loved ones.

“This mobile app will literally put life-saving information directly into the hands of those who need it most,” Gregory said at a press conference in Hauppauge last week. “There is a desperate need for instant access to addiction resources. Just a few weeks ago, 22 people over a two-day span overdosed on opioids in Suffolk. There are so many valuable resources and programs in our county, and we must do all we can to make it easier for those battling substance abuse to reach out for help.”

The app will provide locations of nearby hospitals and treatment centers, links to organizations and support hotlines and information on training to administer Narcan, an overdose reversal medication.

Gregory said he believes the app will be a worthwhile endeavor given the recent launch of New York City’s mobile app, Stop OD NYC, which provides overdose prevention education and connects individuals with local programs. According to his office, Suffolk officials are considering modeling Suffolk’s own app after the city’s version and have been in touch with city health officials as they look to develop the proposal request.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner James Tomarken said the addition of the app is another powerful weapon to use in the ongoing battle against drug addiction.

“Substance abuse affects everyone in the community,” he said at the event. “An application that consolidates information that can be accessed from anywhere on a mobile device offers one more tool in our toolkit for dealing with this public health crisis.”

Suffolk County Community Mental Hygiene Services Director Ann Marie Csorny agreed, saying this idea makes the most sense for the younger generation.

“Today’s youth have come to rely heavily on their smartphones, so putting substance abuse information into a format that is easily accessible to them makes sense,” she said.

Suffolk County is no stranger to the nation’s growing opioid problem. In 2014 Suffolk had the highest number of overdose deaths involving heroin of all New York counties and had the most overdose deaths where prescription opioids were a factor, according to a 2016 New York State Comptroller’s report.

Donna DiBiase, founder and executive director of A2R Magazine, a publication related to journeys in addiction and recovery said branching out to new platforms like cellphones are crucial to winning the fight.

“A mobile app of this nature could be a vital resource at a time when we are losing our next generation to this epidemic,” she said in a statement. “There isn’t a person that I meet who doesn’t know someone — a neighbor, a family member, a friend — who has been touched by this disease. Empowerment and education is so important, and we need to continue to find ways to get information to those who are struggling with addiction, whether it be through an app, a hotline or a magazine.”

The resolution was filed by Gregory at the June 20 meeting and will go before the Health Committee July 20.

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