Suffolk officials are ratcheting up the war on heroin.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, flanked by Suffolk police, treatment advocates and community leaders, announced Thursday a new wave of support in battling the epidemic. The officials hope to combat the scourge through enhanced student outreach efforts, increased police coordination, encouraging parents to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs, promoting “sober nights” for recovering addicts and proposing a law to seize vehicles used in drug deals, among other initiatives.
“The answer is not going to be one track, it’s going to be multifold,” said Levy at the news conference touting a 10-point plan at his office in the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge. “No one answer will be the answer, but together…we will be on a path to bring this problem under control.”
On the law enforcement front, Suffolk police will start a new heroin/opiate task force within the Narcotics Section, which will coordinate with precinct-level detective squads and patrol officers. The initiative is geared toward enhancing drug enforcement efforts at the community level.
Levy said Suffolk police will also pursue more assistance from the Long Island office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to share expertise, resources and information. Additionally, the county executive is exploring a proposal to seize vehicles as a way to impose civil penalties on heroin dealers, similar to how the county can seize cars from drunk drivers.
On the education and prevention front, Levy unveiled a resource guidebook called HELP, short for Heroin Education Leads to Prevention, which contains information on how to recognize signs of drug use in children, what treatment and support options are available and how to contact law enforcement. The book will be distributed across the county.
In addition, the county will host regional “HELP forums” to drive home the message about the heroin problem, identify warning signs and identify prevention measures.
“We’ve had a number of school districts who’ve been proactive,” by hosting heroin lectures for parents, students and students, Levy said. “We need more school districts to do the same.”
Also on this front, Suffolk police will begin collecting unwanted prescription pills at each of the seven precincts. Prescription painkillers are widely known to be the gateway drug for teenagers and young adults who turn to heroin because it’s cheaper—between $5 and $10 per hit—compared to up to $30 per Oxycodone pill, depending on the dose.
“We ask parents to look in their medicine cabinets—if they have these pills lying around, get rid of them,” Levy said.
The county will also make free drug testing kits available to parents for those who are concerned that their children may be abusing drugs.
One the third and arguably the most difficult front—treatment—the county is aiming to help break down the barriers between those who need help and those who provide it. For starters, the county provided Amityville-based South Oaks Hospital with $175,000 to create the Prevention Resource Center (PRC), an online forum to promote prevention, treatment, reduce risk and foster community mobilization to fight the heroin problem.
“The PRC houses a comprehensive array of valuable tools for personal and professional use to promote prevention throughout Suffolk County, including coalition development resources,” said Pamela Mizzi, project director at the center. “Drug use prevention programs are effective when they respond to the needs of a community, involve all the relevant sectors and are based on evidence.”
In addition, the Suffolk County Division of Mental Health will create Clean Connections, a pre-recovery narcotics support group offered exclusively for adolescents who are exploring the possibility of entering treatment. The program distinguishes the needs of short-term abusers from those of long-time addicts and provides necessary peer support.
“We are working with with our community based substance abuse treatment agencies to develop pre-treatment support groups for adolescents,” said Thomas MacGilvray, director of the county Division of Community Mental Hygiene. “Our hope is to offer safe and supportive environments where teens can obtain information about substance abuse, discuss their own issues and if needed, and be referred for assessment and treatment.”
Levy also met with the officials from New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the New York State Insurance Department to try to resolve issues surrounding insurance companies declining to pay for part or all of heroin treatment, forcing families to choose between paying tens of thousands of dollars for lengthy rehab and simply not enrolling.
For those who have completed rehab and are just trying to stay clean, county is promoting drug-free events, including the upcoming Step-N-Out sober nights, sponsored by the Bet U Can Dance studio in East Northport, which is offering a safe and ‘clean’ place to have fun without the temptation of heroin, alcohol or other drugs. The first sober dance is scheduled for New Year’s Eve and is being sponsored by the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), a nonprofit that helps families deal with substance abuse issues.
“There are families that are going through the holidays in real crisis,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of LICADD. He encourages parents to have ‘the talk.’
“It doesn’t have to go perfectly,” he said. “We see every day the implications of not having the conversation.”