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opioid abuse

Steve Chassman, of LICADD, shows attendees strips to test drugs for fentanyl at a Dec. 13 press conference in Port Jefferson. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) joined forces with the Westbury-based Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence to inform residents about the increased danger of opioid-related deaths during the holiday season and the threat of street drugs.

County Legislator Kara Hahn addresses attendees at the Dec. 13 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The legislator, treatment providers and family members of those who have died from opioid-related deaths, some holding posters featuring photos of their deceased loved ones, gathered at a press conference held outside Hahn’s Port Jefferson office on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the area is “rich in resources, and we are going to need them.” He listed some of the organizations that provide services 24 hours a day for those dealing with drug use and their families, such as Seafield Center of Westhampton Beach and Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson as well as LICADD. 

“We are here because it is absolutely necessary to let Long Islanders know the drug supply, not just heroin — cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, pressed pills — are tainted with fentanyl,” Chassman said.

He added that the death rate due to drug overdoses continues to rise, and for many families the holiday season is not a season of peace and joy.

“For families that are in the throes of substance use or opiate-use disorder, this is a time of isolation. This is a time of stigma. This is a time of financial insecurity, and we know that the rate itself, that of self-medication, increases exponentially,” Chassman said. “We’re having this press conference to let families know they’re not alone.”

Hahn said according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, winter is when drug-related deaths spike, most likely due to holiday gatherings or experiencing depression during the winter season. 

“The months of March, January and February, respectively, are traditionally the deadliest of the year for overdoses,” she said.

Hahn encouraged families to take advantage of the resources available to them.

“Too many families already face empty chairs at their tables, but there is always hope,” the county legislator said. “Recovery is possible.”

Carole Trottere, of Old Field, lost her son Alex Sutton to a heroin-fentanyl overdose in April 2018.

She said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration now refers to overdose deaths as poisoning. The DEA has stated that six out of 10 illegal pills tested had fentanyl.

“Using street drugs is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with your life,” Trottere said. “It’s not if it will kill you, it’s when.”

Trottere advised parents not to “hide their heads in the sand.” She said to talk to their children about the dangers of drug use and to reach out to an organization for help when needed.

Anthony Rizzuto, Seafield Center director of provider relations, said, “When I first got involved in this advocacy fight, we were at about 74,000 [deaths],” he said. “We’re looking at each other, how can we let this happen? We are now at 107,000.”

This number from the CDC, for the year ending January 2022, reflects the opioid-related deaths in the U.S.

Rizzuto said one of the challenges of providing help is the stigma attached to drug use, and people being hesitant to talk about it.

“There is no shame in getting help for the disease of addiction,” he said.

He reiterated how marijuana, cocaine and fake prescription pills often are laced with fentanyl.

“If you’re not getting your medication from a pharmacy with your name on the label, please be [suspicious],” he said. “Fentanyl kills.”

For information on how to get help, visit www.licadd.org, or call the hotline, 631-979-1700.

Sandeep Kapoor, MD, AVP of addiction services for Northwell Health Emergency Medicine Services, stopped by Mather Hospital’s Overdose Awareness Day information table Tuesday to chat with Richard Poveromo, LMSW, AVP for Transitions of Care, and Alice Miller, LCSW-R, Director of Mather’s Outpatient Chemical Dependency Program. The table offered information on overdose prevention and how to reverse an opioid overdose using NARCAN. Photo from Mather Hospital

In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, Northwell Health held a system-wide event to provide resources to help prevent future overdoses, as well as recognizing those whose lives have already been cut short by substance use.

The effort included the staffing of tables at 13 Northwell facilities where patients, employees and members of the public could find information about the wide range of services and programs offered by the health system for people struggling with a substance use issue and for concerned relatives, friends and members of the community.

“Awareness and understanding are some of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, assistant vice president of addiction services for Northwell’s emergency medicine service line. “Events like these provide members of our community with the tools they need to protect themselves and their loved ones. And by framing substance use as a medical issue like any other, we help lift the stigma that can close people off from seeking help.”

Mather Hospital had a table in the main lobby beginning at 11 a.m., offering overdose information as well as NARCAN training to reverse an opioid overdose. People in attendance could be trained in the use of naloxone, a medication that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, and after training, they could receive a rescue kit containing the medicine. 

Information was also available on how to access addiction care provided by Northwell and other providers in the community, as well as how to connect with Northwell’s Employee and Family Assistance Program, a free and confidential counseling service available to the health system’s 76,000 employees and family members.

“Our employees are not immune to this crisis and neither are their families,” said Patricia Flynn, assistant vice president of employee wellness at Northwell. “We are committed to providing them the support they need to stay healthy, physically, emotionally and mentally.”

Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by nearly 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reaching a record level of more than 93,000. Experts point to the extreme stress caused by the pandemic as a likely cause, along with increased difficulty in accessing treatment.

 “Substance misuse and addiction are profound threats to the health of our community, and we can’t allow the focus on COVID-19 to deflect us from our work to prevent and treat their effects,” said Bruce Goldman, LCSW, senior director of behavioral health at Northwell and head of substance abuse services at Zucker Hillside Hospital, a Northwell behavioral health facility. “Even in the midst of the pandemic, substance use disorders remain one of the primary drivers of misery. We want our patients and our workforce to understand that no matter what their needs, help is available at Northwell.”

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Celina Wilson, left, of Bridge of Hope Resource Center, and Zachary Jacobs, right, of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, address community members who attended an educational forum at Port Jefferson high school Oct. 19. Photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson high school played host to an educational forum on the ongoing addiction problem facing the community Oct. 19.

The forum, entitled The Adolescent Brain: Preventing High-Risk Behaviors, was presented by Bridge of Hope Resource Center, a Port Jefferson Station nonprofit created in 1998 with the goal of improving the lives of individuals in the community and is a strong advocate in the fight against addiction. Speakers featured a former Brookhaven National Lab scientist who specializes in addiction and the human brain, a doctor in the field of adolescent medicine at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the founder and president of the nonprofit.

Suffolk County has statistically been one of the greatest areas of concern in New York for heroin and opioid deaths in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the county has had more than 100 opioid-related overdoses for several consecutive years.

The issue is not just in New York. According to the CDC, from 2005 to 2014, drug overdose deaths have risen by 144 percent to 2,300 deaths in New York and 58 percent to 47,055 deaths in the nation.

Dr. Joanne Fowler has studied how the human brain changes as a result of drug use since the late 1980s at stops including Brookhaven National Lab. She shared some of her decades of findings with those in attendance.

“When you think about addiction, it’s a really complex problem, and you have many, many factors that play into it,” she said. “Addiction, I would call, the loss of control of a behavior even though it’s causing a lot of problems to the individual. It’s a very destructive behavior that the individual can’t stop even though they want to stop.”

Fowler said the age in which an individual begins a behavior, like using drugs, can play a large roll in addiction because the part of the brain susceptible to addiction takes time to mature.

“The frontal cortex is a very important part of the brain,” she said. “It matures very slowly, so you really don’t have a mature frontal cortex until your early twenties.”

Dr. Zachary Jacobs, who works as a counselor for children at Stony Brook, discussed some risk factors for children and adolescents that could lead down a path of addiction, and some are out of a parent’s control.

“We’ve heard a lot about what parents and family can do, and I’m here to say despite your best efforts, it still might not be enough,” he said. “Despite a strong family, great, open communication, sometimes adolescents are just going to become their own individuals that disagree with family and societal norms … peers become so much more important than family, I’m sorry to say that.”

He recommended open communication and education as a means to combat potentially addictive, hazardous behaviors in children and adolescents to at least avoid issues with addiction, but total prevention is not that simple, he said.

Celina Wilson started Bridge of Hope Resource Center. She is the mother of three children, and she identified several risk factors parents should look for as potential signs of addiction. Insecurity pertaining to body image or loneliness, stress, life-changing events such as a divorce or death in the family, bullying, failure or rejection, depression, academic challenges, failure in competitive sports, a need for acceptance and several others were the factors Wilson suggested parents should be wary of and could be the root of later addiction.

“We have to help our teens better understand the world,” Wilson said. “We have to explain and review risks with them as much as possible.”