Tags Posts tagged with "DASH Center"

DASH Center

Above: Mark Murray, chief of the narcotics bureau for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Photo by Raymond Janis

Despite the pouring rain outside, dozens of locals gathered at Mount Sinai High School on Thursday, Oct. 13, for an educational forum on substance misuse prevention.

Hosted by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who chairs the county’s addiction prevention and support advisory panel, the event brought together various entities. In her presentation, Anker emphasized the outsized rate of drug-related fatalities in the area.

“Right now, the town of Brookhaven has the highest number of opioid deaths in Suffolk County — one of the highest in the state — and we have to do more,” she said. The legislator added, referring to the county government, “We’re trying, but it’s really up to the community. It’s up to the parents, kids and peers to do more and get us in a better place.”

Anker highlighted the need for drug addiction and prevention workshops, stating that these provide an outlet for community members to better prepare themselves in case of an emergency. She also noted that drug education has evolved in recent years, addressing victims’ needs rather than creating stigma. 

The county’s DASH [diagnostic, assessment and stabilization hub] program was cited by her as a model for responsible drug intervention. “When people overdose, they go to an emergency [room] at Stony Brook or Mather or St. Charles or one of the hospitals here in Suffolk County, but what do you do after?” Anker said. “Before, they would just go home or go somewhere. There would be no support, no direction. Now there is.” She added, “New York State is taking that example and making more throughout the state.”

Also present at this community forum was Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), chair of the town’s Drug Prevention Coalition. He considered the coalition a valuable public resource for Brookhaven residents.

“That’s a model of getting the school districts involved, of all kinds of community organizations from a grassroots level, so that we can really get down to that family level,” he said. For Kornreich, the goal of the coalition is to “be accessible and get people connected to the services they need and bring prevention programs to schools … so that we can break that cycle of use and abuse before it starts.”

Another essential component of the forum was its presentations on drug awareness. Among the speakers throughout the night was Mark Murray, chief of the narcotics bureau for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Murray delivered a detailed presentation on the dangers of fentanyl, which he said has become increasingly problematic for county communities.

“Since 2016 here in Suffolk, fentanyl has viciously made its mark,” he said. “We have easily averaged over 300 fatal overdoses a year here in Suffolk, due primarily to the presence of fentanyl.”

Murray characterized fentanyl as a highly potent substance, requiring just “a grain or two” to deliver a lethal dose. According to the narcotics chief, fentanyl is found in nearly every drug on the black market.

“Fentanyl is popular, it’s addictive — and there’s no such thing as a scrupulous drug dealer,” he said.

Given the frequency of fentanyl-related overdoses in Suffolk, Murray stressed the importance of the Good Samaritan Law. This New York State statute protects victims and witnesses of overdose events. 

“It covers a witness or a victim of any medical episode — but more specifically a drug or alcohol overdose — who decides to call 911 either for themselves or that third person,” he said. “It’s not a trick. It’s statutory. It was codified by the state because they wanted to encourage people to realize the importance of the situation and to pick up the phone, call and get help.”

Following the presentations from Murray and other speakers, attendees were given training instructions in naloxone.

To learn more about the addiction resources, including emergency hotline numbers, visit the Long Island Addiction Resource Center website: longislandaddictionresourcecenter.org.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced this week that the county will have no choice but to make catastrophic budget cuts to contract agencies that receive county funding if federal funds don’t come in.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, along with other members of health and social services, were adamant about the need for more federal funds. Photo by Julianne Mosher

In a press conference at the Hauppauge-based Diagnostic, Assessment, and Stabilization Hub Wednesday, Sept. 30, Bellone said services like DASH, which offers drug and family emergency care, could face serious consequences if the federal government doesn’t get involved.

The conference was one in a series of pleas to top federal representatives to send aid to local governments as the impending budget crunch draws near.

“We’re still grappling with the virus’ impacts and aftermath within our community,” he said. “There’s too much riding on this for Washington to not get involved.”

Through federal inaction, Suffolk County will be forced to slash funding at unprecedented levels for agencies that provide services for the most vulnerable, according to Bellone. Along with the county executive, heads of several organizations stood by, explaining how the federal cuts could affect the help they provide to the community.

Healthcare and mental health services, addiction and domestic violence help and even safe childcare are in need of funding to keep going.

“Not-for-profits are the fabrics of our community,” Karen Boorshtein, president and CEO of the Family Service League, said. “Without them, everyone is going to suffer.”

Paule Pachter, CEO Long Island Cares, said that his organization, which brings resources to help feed the hungry on Long Island, has seen huge increases in people waiting in line for food.

“Priorities in the USA are completely unacceptable,” he said. “110,000 [hungry] people, an additional 50,000, will become part of the lasting effects if Washington doesn’t take this seriously.”

Representatives from the Child Care Council of Suffolk, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and L.I. Against Domestic Violence all said they’ve experienced drastic increases in service inquiries during the pandemic.

Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, said the road to recovery for survivors of domestic violence will be painful and slow, especially without federal aid.

“We’ve been up 31% in calls,” she said. “Counseling services have doubled.”

Executive director of LICADD, Steve Chassman, said because of the COVID-19 crisis, addiction numbers have skyrocketed.

“We have propelled to where we were 6 months ago,” he said.

Bellone made a direct appeal to President Trump requesting that he call upon U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a federal disaster assistance bill in the U.S. Senate to prevent these potential devastating cuts.

He said he’s been working alongside counties throughout the state who all agree help is needed.

“This isn’t partisan, and it shouldn’t be,” he said. “Politics has no place there.”

Earlier this year, Bellone created a COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Task Force to conduct an independent review of the county’s multi-year plan and the true impact to the pandemic. The report found that Suffolk County could face a cumulative budget shortfall of up to $1.5 billion over the next three years because of the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Bellone said the county will need nearly $400 million in federal relief this year to avoid these “devasting” cuts that “should not happen.”

“We’ve seen incredible strength and compassion, while also dealing with pain and trauma,” he said. “We’ve been up and down the mountain, we’ve flattened the curve, and we’ve done that by coming together, supporting each other, and that’s what we have to do if we’re going to recover.”

While COVID-19 has become the dominant catastrophe of the moment, other longstanding crises have taken a backseat in the public eye.

Graphic by TBR News Media

The opioid crisis, an epidemic that has taken many more lives over a much longer stretch of time, is seeing a new rash of overdoses since the start of the pandemic.

Data provided by Suffolk County Police shows overdoses have generally increased from the same months last year to this year. In March, police counted a total of 14 fatal overdoses compared to 27 in 2019. There were 108 nonfatal overdoses compared to 93 last year. In April, the numbers jumped wildly from 15 fatal overdoses in 2019 to 30 in 2020. Nonfatal leaped from 67 to 113.

District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) projections of overdose numbers tell an even more morose tale. With data that includes ODs that weren’t confirmed yet by toxicology reports, seeing a total increase of 19 percent of both fatal and nonfatal overdoses compared to the previous year. Though those numbers include all overdoses, not just related to opioids.

While it may be too soon to determine a specific link between the pandemic and the increase of overdoses, drug counselors and rehabs say they have seen the marked connection between isolation, mental illness and drug dependence. As time goes on and the country faces economic turmoil, some worry the situation may not improve for the rest of the year.

Addiction Relief Shifts to Remote Help

Dr. Carol Carter, the director of the Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station, works especially with youth and parents dealing with mental health and drug-related issues. She said her center quickly had to scramble after the state first started closing down. Since then the center has been hosting most programs over Zoom or in Facebook Live sessions. They have especially tried to focus on appreciating diversity, the issues of isolation and other anxieties. They have done children’s book reading and puppet shows over the internet as well, looking for ways to maintain positivity. They have also connected with families by dropping off care packages and calling families each week.

Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station created a “Blessing Box” for people to take necessary items when they need it and drop it off as a donation. Photo from SPC Facebook

But while such meetings may be a substitute for counseling sessions, Carter said the main difficulty is preventing people from getting on drugs, especially as so many remain cooped up indoors,  many in unstable situations.

“We’ve seen an increase of response hotline, in depression and suicidal ideations,” Carter said. “We’re still collecting data, but we’ve heard of an increase in domestic abuse, an increase in substance use, alcohol abuse, as their way of coping with isolation.”

Director of Drug and Alcohol Counseling Services at the Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center, Matthew Neebe, said it’s hard to gauge if there has been an increase in drug use since the pandemic as the center is not facilitating toxicology screenings. Yet, he added there is “anecdotal” evidence for the pandemic causing and increase in relapses and drug use.

“Two of the biggest risk factors for substance use are social isolation and stress,” he said. “Both are consequences of the stay-at-home orders.”

While the center itself is considered essential, they have continued to operate at a reduced level. However, with most staff working from home, all therapy sessions are done via telehealth. They have been conducting some group sessions virtually, though they have reduced the number of sessions from their regular schedule.

Anthony Rizzuto is the director of provider relations for Seafield, a drug rehab with inpatient facilities in Westhampton and outpatient facilities in Amityville, Medford, Mineola, Patchogue and Riverhead. He said they too have been hearing of the increase in overdoses and the increased use of alcohol and other drugs as more are quarantined at home.

“We know people will turn to drugs or alcohol, and God knows right now we have plenty of stressors — we have people who have lost loved ones, people who have lost their jobs, people who are in financial ruin, some are losing their businesses,” Rizzuto said. “We see an increase right now, and quite honestly I expect a huge increase as this continues going on and after this is over, if this ever happens.”

While there are obvious downsides to telehealth, the push is one that was in the docket for a while, and with the current pandemic, has finally pushed many institutions into taking it seriously, said Dr. Christian Racine, the senior director for clinics for the Family Service League Long Island. The nonprofit social services agency also runs the Diagnostic, Assessment and Stabilization Hub in partnership with Suffolk County.

The benefits, Racine said, include allowing people who may have had mobility issues or other mitigating problems the chance to get into the system. People who call the hotline for the clinic or DASH center are now immediately put into the system, where they can connect with people to understand what the person is going through and what services they should get connected to. It also allows for flexibility in time and location, no longer requiring a person to drive what can be a long distance to start the treatment process. 

FSL’s Mobile Crisis Teams continue to operate, often going to a person’s home to talk through the door or even speak to a person through video chat or phone right on the person’s driveway.

“We didn’t see a drop in services, [but] an increase in services because of flexibility of being able to use telehealth,” Racine said. “People are being frank about increased cravings or relapses.”

Sarah Anker, the legislative chair of the opioid panel, said they too are concerned of increase in opioid overdoses. File photo by Erika Kara

Though there still are several downsides to telehealth. Perhaps the most egregious is for those living in unstable home conditions, where the person on one of the calls may not want others to listen in.

“Even if you get along with the rest of the family, you’re worried about what you’re sharing or you’re hesitant to share certain details,” he said. “Some don’t have the best relationship with their families. It’s absolutely a concern, and we’re very conscious of that.”

While Rizutto acknowledged some of the benefits of telehealth, he said he preferred the in-person meetings where he said “a lot is being said nonverbal.” 

Otherwise, with so many resources shut down, from in-person AA meetings to churches to gyms, “Zoom really played a part to give people something,” Rizutto said. “People are in those meetings who had never been to therapy, before people from all over. It is definitely meeting a need.”

Government and Police Response

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said cops have noticed increased incidents of drug overdoses, though despite the emphasis on social distancing police are still able to administer Narcan, a life-saving drug that halts an opioid overdose. 

But with treatment and prevention as the more important component of substance abuse, the pandemic presents its own unique challenges.

“It’s not just opioids — people are self medicating, people are isolated,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). Anker is the legislative chair of the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel.

The trend is troubling, especially compared to Suffolk County’s previous models showing total overdoses are on the decline. In January, Suffolk released a report showing 2019’s projections of opioid-related deaths was 283, compared to 2018’s 380. Those decreased numbers of deaths were attributed, in part, to the greater use and availability of Narcan.

Anker said the numbers have caused real concerns among other members of the opioid advisory panel. In a meeting Friday, May 8, panel members discussed tapping into county forfeiture funding to create public service announcements on mental health and the different places to receive drug treatment. The panel also would look to advocate that the federal government should allow people to use Medicaid funds for teleconferencing, which it currently does not cover.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini says the issues with overdoses and drugs won’t improve with the ongoing pandemic. Photo by Alex Petroski

Sini said Suffolk County has not seen a decrease in drug-related activity despite the pandemic. This is mostly due to the nature of how drugs enter into Suffolk — smuggled into New York City then is sold wholesale to dealers on the ground, who usually drop it off to peoples’ houses or are picked up at select homes.

“We’re not seeing any drop except for powdered cocaine, but we’re not seeing that same situation with heroin or fentanyl,” the DA said.

Sini said while other crimes like break-ins have declined, the office has allocated more resources to the narcotics bureau, now standing at 13 narcotics prosecutors, which works closely with police to track dealers and prosecute them.

The DA’s office is also planning to roll out a new program that would work with a yet-to-be-named nonprofit and shuttle people in addiction to treatment providers. Sini said there will be more information on that program in the coming weeks.

The initial rise in COVID-19 cases forced the rehab facilities to cut back in bed capacity, especially as hospital-based detoxes turned into beds for COVID patients. Since then, as the number of hospitalizations declined, Rizzuto said now bed supply is better, but of more concern is funding for these facilities.

“Either a state-funded facility, nonprofits or private entities, I think the budget is going to be ravaged and with the lack of being able to collect, they will be looking to cut,” Rizzuto said. “I think they are going to have to cut in many different areas to meet the needs financially. Historically behavioral health is one of the things that gets slashed.” 

Anker said members of the advisory panel have expressed their concerns for many different programs’ funding, especially as New York State reports huge drops in income. Many nonprofit rehabs and centers rely on such funding.

“Drug addiction is not decreasing, it’s increasing and they may be taking away those resources,” Anker said. “We may not hear it now, but we will see repercussions come out as we deal with pandemic.”

Maintaining the breadth of services, from inpatient care to outpatient care to paying for nursing and other medical staff, the rehabs and prevention centers requires a heavy dose of government funding. Racine said restructuring Medicaid could provide a necessary boost of aid.

“The idea of state funding being reduced is really a concern — a lot of services are expensive,” Racine said.

Despite the efforts of both government, for profit and nonprofit organizations, officials said they don’t expect numbers to return to the way they seemed to be heading only a year ago.

“I think it would be very hard to end 2020 on a decline,” Sini said. “We will see an increase in 2020, but we will all be working to bring those numbers down in 2021.”

Stock photo

After police announced Monday, April 27 several incidents of tense armed standoffs between police and residents, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) cited increased levels of domestic violence and the need to combat it while people remain stuck at home.

Police said Mark Reyes, 51, allegedly entered the home of a female acquaintance Saturday, April 25, in Kings Park. Police said she received knife wounds during the incident where she was assaulted. After the woman escaped the next day, the man would eventually be arrested after a prolonged standoff between him and police.

Bellone said the ongoing crisis has created a “climate” for people in situations with domestic violence, “increasing the risks they are facing.”

The county executive said police has seen an uptick in domestic violence incidents of 3.5 percent from April 3 through 16. 

The current crisis, where more people are at home without any means of visiting other places or seeking help, has intensified the issue.

“Domestic violence is horrific and intolerable,” Bellone said, also citing numerous services people can use if they are in such a domestic situation. Because many in such situations cannot pick up the phone to call for help, they can reach New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence by texting 844-997-2121 or visiting opdv.ny.gov. Bellone said people can also reach out to Suffolk through 311 to get a list of resources, or visit suffolkcountyny.gov/crime-hotline. Suffolk also has the Hauppauge-based DASH Center that offers crisis care for children and adults. They can be reached at 631-952-3333. 

“We know this climate is absolutely conducive to exacerbating mental health challenges that were there prior to the crisis unfolding – we want people to know those resources are available,” he said.

While the county executive said the vast majority of people have adhered to social distancing, there have been cases where people haven’t abided. Police said officers have done 870 checks of non-social distancing since New York Pause began, and they have found 76 violations. In addition, 86 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 70 are back at work. That’s up from 81 who tested positive April 17, according to police data.

Meanwhile, with questions about how New York State will be able to reopen, more testing and research has resulted in showing more people have been infected with COVID-19 than originally thought. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today close to 15 percent of New Yorkers actually have the virus. Long Island specifically shows 14.4 percent of people have the virus, according to results from the state survey. 

This has only placed new importance on county and state-level testing initiatives. Bellone said there are plans to expand the number of hot spot testing sites within the county, but did not go over details of where those could be located. He also said there are plans to expand the operations of testing sites in spots Brentwood and Huntington Station, which have already seen a higher percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 compared to sites like Stony Brook University.

He said he supported such “diagnostic testing” initiatives such as Cuomo’s announced plans for testing kits being available at pharmacies. As both counties and states in the region work out the details for eventually gradually reopening the state, such tests and the data they receive from them will be invaluable. 

The county executive added after speaking with the Army Corps. of Engineers, the Gov. plans to keep the field hospital located at Stony Brook University in place for the time being. Worries that the virus could come back in a resurgence later in the year, the so-called “second wave,” is weighing heavy on officials’ minds.

The move from Sunday to Monday saw a general increase in the number of COVID-positive cases rise 464 to 33,286 in Suffolk. While Saturday saw a bump in the number of hospitalizations, this day’s numbers saw the overall declining trend continue with a decrease of 37 bringing the total down to 1,097. ICU beds have also opened up thanks to the discharges by 35, bringing the total number of people in ICU beds to 408. 

Hospital capacity is sitting at 3,369, while ICU beds are at 775. 953 hospital beds and 228 ICU beds are available. There have been 69 people who have left hospitals, recuperating enough to continue recovering at home.

With that, the number of deaths continues to rise, with 32 people dying in Suffolk from COVID-19, bringing the total deaths to 1,102.

With additional reporting by Daniel Dunaief