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DuWayne Gregory

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

Legislators DuWayne Gregory and Leslie Kennedy smile with young Suffolk residents. Photo from Leg. Gregory’s office

Beneath the sunny rays in Smithtown’s Blydenburgh County Park June 29, Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced a new program to celebrate Suffolk’s youth community.

The Distinguished Youth Award program is meant to promote and recognize the achievements and initiatives in service of Suffolk County’s youngest contributing members.

The program is open to county residents between the ages of 13 and 18, and registrants will work with local officials throughout the course of a year to lay out plans and goals that touch on volunteerism, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County, and physical fitness.

Gregory announced the program alongside young residents who have already registered, and with colleague, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

“The goal in establishing this program is to encourage young people to become well-rounded and engaged in local issues and initiatives,” Gregory said at the press event. “Our young people are our future. This program is one way to build a foundation on which these young adults can continue to develop a connection to their communities, to understand their needs, and to explore solutions. We are encouraging them to be leaders whose roots are firmly planted in Suffolk County.”

According to Gregory’s office, the program is modeled after the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and challenges participants to take part in two or more program categories: volunteer service, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County parks, and physical fitness. Medals will be awarded to participants based on the number of categories in which they engage  as part of their individual challenge. The bronze medal will be awarded to teens that successfully complete two of the four program areas. The silver medal will be awarded to participants who complete three of the four program areas. The gold medal, which signifies the highest achievement, will recognize participants who complete their established goals in all four program areas.

Fellow legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) co-sponsored the resolution.

“Suffolk County is lucky to be the home to so many wonderful young people who have distinguished themselves in many ways,” Spencer said in a statement. “It will be a great honor to recognize them individually.”

Kennedy echoed the sentiments.

“In Suffolk County we have many accomplished young men and women,” she said at the event. “The Distinguished Youth Award will foster an environment where our youth will continue to accomplish great things, and grow into civically minded adults.”

Registration forms are available online on the Suffolk County Legislature’s Distinguished Youth Award program’s web page at legis.suffolkcountyny.gov/DYA.html. They can also be mailed to Suffolk County Legislature Distinguished Youth Award, Office of the Presiding Officer, Suffolk County Legislature, P.O. Box 6100 – Bldg. 20, Hauppauge, NY 11788-0099.

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.

Some debris dumped at the Town of Brookhaven’s Tanglewood Park in Coram. Photo from Legislator Anker’s office

The penalty for illegally dumping on county-owned properties may soon include jail time in Suffolk County, after legislators unanimously approved on March 28 both increased fines and the potential of up to one year’s imprisonment for anyone convicted. The bill, sponsored by Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his signature within the next 30 days. 

A no dumping sign along North Country Road in Shoreham. File photo

Once implemented, maximum fines for illegal dumping of nonconstruction, demolition and hazardous material wastes by a business or corporation will increase to $15,000 from the previous fine of $5,000. The penalty for dumping nonconstruction materials by an individual will remain at $1,000. If an individual is found dumping construction or demolition material, the misdemeanor fine will increase to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a corporation or business. Under the change, both an individual and someone convicted of dumping material on behalf of a commercial entity may be sentenced up to one year in jail. Imposition of the ultimate fine or criminal sentence is within the sentencing court’s discretion.

“For far too long, fines associated with illegal dumping were considered just the cost of doing business,” said Hahn, chairwoman both of the Legislature’s Parks & Recreation and Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committees. “For those who choose to pursue greed over the health of the public and our environment, your cost of business has just gotten a lot more expensive. The one-two combination of increased monetary penalties and potential jail time will hopefully give pause to any person or commercial entity that believes these significant fines and the potential loss of freedom is a cost effective business strategy.”

Illegal dumping on Long Island has emerged as a serious environmental issue and threat to public health following the discoveries of potentially toxic debris within the Town of Islip’s Roberto Clemente Park, Suffolk County’s West Hills County Park and a housing development for military veterans in Islandia. In February, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued approximately 200 tickets for unlawful disposal, operating without a permit and other violations during stings conducted on Long Island and the Hudson Valley that also identified nine dumping sites upstate. 

“Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water.”

—Sarah Anker

“For decades, Suffolk County has worked tirelessly to preserve land in order to protect our environment and groundwater,” Anker said. “Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water, which negatively affects our health. It is important we do everything in our power to continue to protect our parklands and to ensure that illegal dumping does not occur. By doing so, we are not only preserving the environmental integrity of Suffolk County, but improving the quality of life for all residents.”

Trotta called the dumping a crime against the residents of Suffolk County.

“I want to make it unprofitable for contractors to dump this material,” he said, “and more importantly, I want them going to jail for this.”

Browning added that the parks are vital assets for Suffolk County residents, and one of the core recreational resources available to them. She doesn’t like seeing the destruction of quality of life. Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) agrees, saying it’s an important step to protecting parks, while giving teeth to all legislation recently passed on this quality of life issue.

“I applaud legislator Hahn for her hard work toward preventing this serious problem,” Browning said. “Aggressively attacking illegal dumping head on will ensure the sustainability of our parks and preserve one of the many reasons Suffolk County continues to be a great place to live.”

Committee created to start the process of creating family-oriented motorsports park

Suffolk County Legislator Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory discusses Long Islanders' desire for a drag strip in Suffolk County. Photo from Legislator Gregory's office

Suffolk County is putting the pedal to the metal in an effort to build a drag strip for its need-for-speed residents.

A large crowd of more than 100 drag racing enthusiasts filled the auditorium at the Suffolk County Legislature Feb. 7 and cheered on as Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced the formation of an ad hoc committee, consisting of a bipartisan group of legislators, representatives from the Department of Planning and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association, and members from the racing community, to start the process of bringing a family-oriented motorsports park to the county.

Long Islanders who wish to see a drag strip in Suffolk County created a Facebook page “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip.” Image from Facebook

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County,” Gregory said during the press conference.

The ad-hoc committee was suggested by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) after representatives from the “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip” advocacy group charged into the legislature auditorium in December to protest a resolution on the board’s agenda.

The board had been considering a bill for a master plan in Yaphank, but the racing community argued against accepting the master plan, claiming that the property would be better used as a drag strip. The group had been looking at some areas included in the master plan for a potential site to build on. Even though the Yaphank property wound up not being anywhere near large enough for what they were proposing, the passionate group had the board’s interest.

“I was really inspired by the passion of all those that came to the Legislature and we’re going to do all we can to try and make it a reality,” Cilmi said in a phone interview.

In terms of the crowd at both gatherings, Cilmi said, “it’s worth pointing out that in the room were young children, lots of women and lots of guys … it was a large group of very enthusiastic people and it’s not every day that you fill an auditorium with people all interested in one issue.”

The Suffolk legislators on the committee —Gregory, Cilmi, Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) — will explore potential locations in Suffolk for the drag strip, which is projected to occupy between 100 and 200 acres, as well as the economic boom a full-fledged drag strip could bring to the struggling county.

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County.”

—DuWayne Gregory

Gregory said the committee hopes the drag strip will deter the illegal and dangerous street racing that’s been known to take place in areas like Wyandanch. Another task is to make sure the local community and neighboring towns are behind the project and understand their quality of life will not be disrupted by it.

In building the drag strip, the committee anticipates growth in the local racing-related industry, like shops that paint the racing cars and work on engines, and job creation in those fields. There will also be food concessions within the arena, and spectators who could potentially come out and spend money at surrounding restaurants and hotels.

Gregory said any large venue has the potential to attract thousands of people and effectively increase the county’s sales tax, which has been flat for the last few years — “Long Island is losing money in sales tax as residents and tourists flock to nearby states, including New Jersey, to use their drag racing strips.” He said estimates show that a drag strip could generate more than $100 million in revenue.

He proposed that this would be “a safe and enjoyable attraction that people [will] want to come to.”

Kruspki, who grew up in Cutchogue and remembers his grandfather taking him to the Riverhead Raceway when he was young, said the racing culture is still very much alive.

“A lot of people are really interested in this and enjoy racing and working on cars and so to most people it’s more than a hobby, it’s more of a lifestyle,” he said in a phone interview. “I give DuWayne Gregory credit for putting this together; it’s a nice bipartisan group and everyone sees the value in it.”

While still too early to confirm any serious location ideas, the committee and members of the advocacy group have areas like Enterprise Park in Riverhead on a list of potential sites to build on. One of the motorsports advocates has expressed interest in contributing a piece of their own property.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta said the proposed drag strip has the potential to bring in needed revenue for Suffolk County. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

“It’s going to be tough to find a spot to put this because a lot of people won’t want to hear it,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “It’s going to have to be somewhere far away from most people, but we’re going to try our utmost [best] to find a place.”

Trotta, who has been consistently vocal about Suffolk’s current economic state, said while he doesn’t necessarily believe the drag strip will be “a savior of Suffolk County,” there’s great potential to bring in needed revenue.

“There’s not a resort in Nassau or Suffolk, and Long Island is bigger than most cities,” Trotta said. “There’s an opportunity for us to make something and mix it with the drag strip. We need people from the city to come out here and spend money.”

During the press conference, John Cozzali, a Mastic resident and founder of “Long Island Needs a Drag Strip,” said he was happy to see the Legislature taking a serious look at his group’s long-dreamt project.

“We look forward to working on this initiative, which we believe will have a positive economic impact for Long Island and will create a safe place for the new generation to come and race,” Cozzali said.

According to Gregory, the full economic analysis, conceptual planning of the racetrack and location securing should take roughly nine months.

Police Commissioner Tim Sini discusses housing issues happening across the county. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Housing fraud has hit home for some North Shore officials.

During Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory’s press conference on Monday, fellow legislators, local leaders and county and state officials addressed issues with squatters and unsafe structures cropping up across Long Island.

According to Gregory (D-Amityville), squatters are using foreclosed homes to take advantage of prospective residents looking for an affordable place to live. In many cases, the actual property owners have abandoned the property and some of the homes are becoming safety hazards.

Then there’s the problem of the houses becoming havens for criminal activity.

“A lot of these vacant homes are being used for drug deals,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “These vacant homes are a danger in our society.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini added that the homes can also become magnets for prostitution and vandalism.

The neglected houses that become sites for criminal activity are commonly called zombie homes.

According to Sini, in each hamlet on Long Island there are dozens of zombie homes or houses that squatters are illegally renting out to unsuspecting tenants.

“We know homelessness is a major crisis for our veterans, for our seniors, for our working families,” Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. “When we see someone taking advantage of someone looking to rent or purchase a home, it’s very heinous because a lot of the times, we’re talking about people’s life savings … and this could really disrupt the family.”

Many tenants find the properties through Craigslist or similar websites. During the event, Gregory said a single mother was one of many people scammed when a squatter posed as a property owner and rented out a parcel to her. Although police were unable to arrest that particular squatter before the person fled, officials are working to arrest suspects in such cases.

They are also urging people to report vacant homes in their neighborhood. Those tips can help — according to Anker, the Rocky Point Civic Association keeps track of these homes and has reported more than 70 vacant homes in the area.

“This is happening all over the county. We want to make sure people are aware of what’s going on and that … when you’re going to rent a property, that you do your due diligence,” Gregory said. “There are people out there, unscrupulous people … who take advantage.”

Gregory will host an educational seminar on the issue on Tuesday, March 29, at the Copiague Memorial Library on Deauville Boulevard. The seminar runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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