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Drug Abuse

Congressman Lee Zeldin, joined by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, health professionals, community groups, parents, expresses his support for the package of bills coming to the House floor this week. File photo from Jennifer DiSiena

Major change may be coming to the North Shore, as a drug abuse bill is set to land on U.S. President Barack Obama’s (D) desk this week.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is a co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which plans to spend $8.3 billion to help combat widespread drug addiction, especially addiction to heroin, on Long Island.

“As addiction and overdose deaths continue to climb, tearing families apart, it is essential that the President sign CARA into law to start delivering help to those suffering,”
— Lee Zeldin

CARA passed through the House of Representatives last week with a bipartisan vote of 407 to 5, and the Senate this week with a bipartisan vote 92 to 2.

Zeldin, who is a member of The Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, said he has been a proud supporter of this bill for more than a year now, and is happy to see Congress backing it.

“With both House and Senate passage of CARA, a bill that I proudly cosponsor, we are now only one step away from this bill being signed into law,” Zeldin said in a statement. “78 people [lose] their life every day as a result of an opioid or heroin overdose. Last year — on Long Island alone — 442 people died of a heroin or opiate overdose, up from 403 overdose deaths the year before. As addiction and overdose deaths continue to climb, tearing apart families and communities, it is essential that the President sign CARA into law to start delivering help to those suffering.”

The specifics of CARA include $80 million in funding to help prevent and treat addiction on a local level through community-based education, prevention, treatment and recovery programs; $160 million for the expansion of medication-assisted treatment options; and $103 million to establish a community-based competitive grant program to address and treat the problems of heroin and opioid addiction and abuse. Additional funding will help supply po lice forces and emergency medical responders with higher quantities of naloxone, known more commonly as Narcan, a medication that is proven to reverse an opioid overdose.

Another part of CARA’s funding focuses on pain management and prescription.

According to the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services is required to assemble a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, which will review, modify, and update the best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, and examine and identify the need for, development, and availability of medical alternatives to opioids.

The grant aspect of CARA is connected to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. CARA is set to amend that bill to authorize the Department of Justice to award grants to state, local and tribal governments to provide opioid-abuse services, including enhancing collaboration between criminal justice and substance abuse agencies; developing, implementing and expanding programs to prevent, treat, or respond to opioid abuse; training first responders to administer opioid overdose reversal drugs; and investigating unlawful opioid distribution activities.

The North Shore is not immune to the heroin crisis. According to a New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention Report from 2015, Suffolk County has the highest heroin-related overdose fatalities of any county in New York.

Zeldin has co-sponsored several other bills in the House on this issue.

“While there is not just one piece of legislation that will solve this crisis, we must always continue our fight to provide our local communities with the resources necessary to help stop and prevent drug abuse through treatment, enforcement, and education,” he said.

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People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, someone practices spraying into a dummy’s nostrils. Photo by Elana Glowatz

We’ve been hit with some staggering figures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse, the highest number on record. Last year alone Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses. Suffolk tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

Although local and national initiatives have come from all different angles to try to combat the rise in heroin and opioid abuse, we think lawmakers lack focus.

Most recently, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) endorsed a large legislation package that would review and update guidelines for prescribing opioids and pain medication and require a report to Congress on the availability of substance abuse treatment in the country, among many other provisions. While we applaud any earnest effort to combat the widespread problem, there needs to be more focus from one specific angle: prevention.

With treatment and recovery options across the North Shore and with the rate at which the county is now taking down drug dealers, enforcement and rehabilitation are not our biggest problems. Instead, more needs to be done to deter kids from ever considering to try drugs in the first place. While some schools have begun to work on this, working with police to hold Narcan training sessions and informational forums, students should be seeing more than just numbers and figures, police officers or counselors.

Tracey Budd, of Rocky Point, helped Suffolk County create a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that has been shown in schools. Budd lost her son to a heroin overdose and her message is powerful. Kids need to see the struggles that addicts and their families go through to help hammer home how dangerous drugs are.

We also urge parents to be more aware and involved. You know your child — look, listen and ask questions. There are signs in mood, behavior, habit and appearance that could warn you that there’s a serious problem. And don’t be afraid to set boundaries or to talk both about drugs and other topics that may seem difficult or awkward. Many people are drawn to drugs because of an underlying emotional issue, but letting a teenager know that nonjudgmental ears are listening could be a solution.

Frederick Douglass once famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Building those stronger children is how we should tackle our country’s growing drug problem.

Narcan, a drug that stops opioid overdoses. File photo by Jessica Suarez

Concerned that a loved one will overdose on drugs? Suffolk County is hosting training classes over the next few months to teach residents how to identify overdoses of opioid drugs — such as heroin, Vicodin and Percocet — and use the anti-overdose medication Narcan to rescue victims.

The county’s parting gift for people who show up to the program is an emergency resuscitation kit that contains Narcan as well as a certificate of completion.

The first class, on Feb. 4, will be a bit of a hike away, at the Mattituck firehouse on Pike Street from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (RSVP to ihateheroin631@gmail.com).

There will be another in Greenlawn on Feb. 12, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Harborfields library on Broadway (RSVP to Sheila Sullivan at 631-271-8025 or sullivans@nysa.us).

A third will take place on Feb. 18 in Wyandanch, at the Wyandanch Community Resource Center on Straight Path from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (RSVP to 631-643-1960 or mthomas@townofbabylon.com).

Following a March 3 course in Bohemia, at the Connetquot Public Library on Ocean Avenue from 6 to 7 p.m. (RSVP to 631-665-2311), the county is holding one at the Setauket firehouse on Nicolls Road. That event, on Thursday, March 31, will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Participants can RSVP to 631-854-1650 or seth.squicciarino@suffolkcountyny.gov.

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CN Guidance & Counseling Services is setting up shop at Horizons Counseling & Education Center on Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Jared Cantor

The fight against drug abuse has a new home in Smithtown.

In response to a multiyear surge of heroin and opiate pill use across the North Shore and greater Long Island, CN Guidance & Counseling Services, which works on addressing substance use and mental health disorders, has launched outpatient detoxification and withdrawal support services to residents of Smithtown.

Two new sites — one at Horizons Counseling & Education Center at 161 East Main St. in Smithtown and the other at CN Guidance’s main office at 950 S. Oyster Bay Road in Hicksville — have begun delivering a combination of services to local residents addicted to opiates. The services, supported by funds from both county governments, include assessment, detoxification, symptom relief with addiction medications, monitoring of vital signs and instant connection to longer-term treatment and relapse prevention.

Heroin killed a record-high 144 people on Long Island in 2013, a death toll increasing 91 percent in Nassau County and 163 percent in Suffolk County since just 2010, CN said in a statement. Opioid pills, including oxycodone, were linked to 343 additional deaths on Long Island in 2012 and 2013.

“We are filling a critical gap,” said Jeffrey Friedman, chief executive officer of CN Guidance. “The havoc connected to untreated opiate addiction on Long Island has been slicing through our Long Island families and communities. These new outpatient detoxification and support services are enabling opiate-addicted individuals — and their families — to receive the help they need immediately, with no lag in connection to the longer-term treatment and recovery services they need after detoxification. If you know someone in need, please call us.”

During a studied nine-month period in 2013, 4,409 individuals requested detoxification services in Nassau County, but only 26 percent, or 1,157, were actually admitted, according to Nassau County’s Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services. Suffolk County struggles analogously.

Data from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services show that 85 percent of detoxification in New York State is done in hospitals, often with long waits, at high costs and lacking results, whereas other states use such hospital-based detoxification primarily for medically or psychiatrically complicated cases. The new outpatient programs offer an alternative for the many residents who face mild to moderate severity of withdrawal from opiates, rather than severe withdrawal most commonly associated with emergency-level crises.

Because CN Guidance is a comprehensive behavioral health services provider that offers full-service care coordination, it is able to link clients in the new outpatient programs immediately to a whole array of often- needed services ranging from mental health counseling and treatment to long-term substance use treatment.

Residents and other service providers in either county may call 516-822-6111 to accesDs the program.

Lee Zeldin, center, announces his support of two House bills to help addicts and prevent others from using drugs. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Rep. Lee Zeldin took to Kings Park on Sunday to join the fight against drug abuse, an issue that is plaguing communities on Long Island and across the nation.

Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced his backing of two bills in Congress — the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, H.R. 953, and the Stop Overdose Stat Act, H.R. 2850 — which seek to help those struggling with drug abuse and prevent future abuse. Zeldin is co-sponsoring both bills.

“It’s clear we must come together as a community and a nation to combat this growing issue,” Zeldin said.

According to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the percentage of state high school students who reported use of heroin more than doubled between 2005 and 2011, from 1.8 percent to 4 percent.

“We can’t treat them and street them, which is what is currently happening in our emergency rooms,” said Linda Ventura, treasurer of Families in Support of Treatment, known as F.I.S.T., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and educating families which are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. “There should be no more shame with someone struggling with this disease, no, stigma — that has to go.”

Ventura, who is also involved with the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, is more than just a member of activist groups. She lost her son, Thomas, in March 2012 to drugs.

Bill 953 would help people grappling with drug abuse obtain the services needed to put them on the road to recovery. It would provide up to $80 million in the form of grant funding to help treat and prevent addiction through community-based education and prevention programs, and treatment and recovery programs.

The grants would further help expand prescription drug monitoring programs and provide police forces and emergency medical responders with higher supplies of Narcan, a prescription drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

The legislation has 20 co-sponsors — both Democrats and Republicans — and was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

“It’s a good bill on its merits alone, and it doesn’t matter what names or letters are attached to it,” Zeldin said.

Bill 2850 would provide an additional $25 million over a five-year period for Narcan production and distribution and provide more medical professionals and families with the lifesaving drug.

The act, introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), would also establish a preventative research task force that would look into ways to prevent future overdose deaths, while taking a preventative approach against drug abuse.

Zeldin was joined by members of the community including Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset); Kim Revere, president of Kings Park in the kNOw, a task force promoting a drug-free community; and Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. The congressman wanted to show the only way to win the battle was to remain united.

Like Ventura, the fight was personal for some of those in attendance at Sunday’s press conference.

“I lost my son, Timothy, in August of 2009 after a 14-month struggle with prescription drugs, which eventually led to heroin,” said Teri Kroll, secretary for F.I.S.T.’s board of directors and a member of the resource center. “He passed away after eight and a half months of sobriety.”

Saji Francis, the doctor who prescribed Timothy the drug he eventually became addicted to, was arrested shortly after Timothy passed away. In 2010, Francis was convicted of illegally selling prescription pills and sentenced to six months in jail.

Kolodny, who also serves as the director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, explained how many people start abusing drugs after taking prescription medications.

“To control this epidemic we need to prevent new people from getting this disease, and treat those who are suffering,” he said. “We also need to get doctors and dentists to prescribe more cautiously. If not, these overdose levels with continue to rise.”

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

May and June are the months of the year when we celebrate our mothers, our fathers and our graduates. It is a time of year to pause in the midst of all the chaos, despite a world filled with hate and discrimination.

So often I have filled this space with stories of those who have been suffering. These stories have challenged me to stay the course, helping others for over 30 years to reclaim their lives.

It is no secret that our county is being ravaged by the reckless use of heroin. What is equally frustrating is the growing denial among so many people about the seriousness of this epidemic health crisis.  Every quarter of our community is showing resistance, from the government, to our schools and most painfully from our parents.

How many young adults have to lose their lives before people stand up and shout “no more!” Are you willing to commit yourself to positive action, even if it makes you uncomfortable? Every parent’s nightmare is burying a child. To lose a child because of reckless decision making and behavior is even more tragic.

There are not enough easily accessible beds for those who seek long-term treatment. Opiate addiction cannot be effectively treated with a 28-day model. Too many insurance companies will only pay for residential care, if one fails at outpatient treatment. If one knows anything about opiate addiction, one knows that approach is a sure death sentence.

In our own community, too many have lost their lives while doing outpatient treatment. The few residential programs that are accessible in our community are short-term at best — and that is if insurance will cover it. Too many health care plans will only pay for five or six days — maybe 12 days max! How do you focus on recovery if you think you might be homeless in a few days  — starting all over again?

Despite these horror stories, people are getting better, entering recovery and learning how to live productive lives.

A story of hope:

TJ is a young man who was born into privilege. His parents are well educated and successful, materially speaking. While he was in high school, he developed a serious opiate addiction and was able to effectively hide it from his parents and his teachers. He was out of control and almost died on numerous occasions.

TJ is a smart, articulate, engaging and talented young man. When he was confronted about his addiction and his out-of-control behavior, he denied he had a problem and refused any kind of treatment. Only when he was in the bowels of dysfunction and depression did he finally agree to treatment. He agreed to long-term treatment and signed a contract for a year to 18 months.

It was not an easy road for TJ, but today he has four years of healthy recovery.He recently graduated from a local liberal arts college and will begin Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, pursing a master’s degree in clinical social work so he can help others not walk the road that almost cost him his life.

He will be the first to admit that he is where he is today because his parents stopped enabling and rescuing him. Instead, they empowered him to reclaim his life and walk the road less traveled and live!

Fr. Pizzarelli is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, can be administered either through the nose or intravenously. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is hosting a free Narcan training seminar later this month, with the goal of teaching local residents how to administer the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

At the Comsewogue Public Library on March 31, starting at 7 p.m., community members will also learn how to identify an overdose and administer the lifesaving medication.

The seminar will take place in the community room of the library, located on Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station, and participants must be 18 years or older.

Hahn said in a press release that the training is important “because it is often the family and friends of a victim who are first on the scene when someone is overdosing.”

Those who wish to attend must pre-register by calling the legislator’s office at 631-854-1650.

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