Long Island task force reveals new approach for battling the opioid crisis

A sign urging people to "make the call" at B.E.S.T Center in East Setauket, NY on Monday, Oct. 6. The rehab center is one of many addicts go to combat opioid abuse.

By Jedine Daley and Ken Fermin

A report from the recently formed Nassau County opioid task force released last Thursday proposes new tactics such as educational programs and increased police patrols to combat opioid abuse on Long Island. 

The 11-member Nassau County Opioid Crisis Task Force that consists of Nassau county officials, law enforcement officials, and drug addiction specialists is headed by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe. The force will deploy plain clothes officers and lead narcotics detectives into starting more in-depth investigations on opioid cases, while creating and engaging in open dialogue with residents to reduce opioid traffic and abuse in the area.

“There’s a shift in the court system to now refer people to treatment instead of sending them to jail, if it can be proved that they committed a crime because they are dependent on a substance,” Campus Director at Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehab center in three Long Island locations,  Shoshanna Walden, said.

The misuse of, and addiction to prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The task force will lead opioid users to recovery by finding and recommending treatment and recovery services. The mission is to educate users and families on the effects of the drugs, and how to move forward from it.

“I think we need to be removed from the situation we’re in, and be removed from the drug to get the physical dependency over with,” Christina Chase, a patient at Phoenix House addiction treatment center said. “Then get to the core issues of what’s really going on, because I believe the drugs are not the problem, the drugs are a solution to my problems.”

The Nassau County Police Department identified Hempstead, Franklin Square and Inwood among some of the communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, and will focus its efforts in those locations, according to the report.

“Our patrol officers and detectives are trained to identify heroin, the officers as well as first responders are equipped with Narcan to help people who are suffering from an opioid overdose,” Detective Barling from the Nassau County Police Department said.

Behavioral therapy and medication have shown to reduce associated health and social costs of drug abuse. Substance abuse costs the United States over $600 billion annually and treatment can help reduce these costs, and treatment is much less expensive than its alternatives, such as incarcerating addicted persons, according to a 2018 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study shows that the average cost for a full year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $4,700 per patient, whereas a full year of imprisonment costs approximately $24,000 per person. 

These therapies, however, do not fully eliminate the risk of drug abuse. 

“I wish that the stigma would go away, and that there would be more help, and less jail, because we don’t get help in jail,” Chase said. 

For addicts, breaking away from drugs is just as difficult as escaping the stigma attached to its use.

“It would be great to drop the stigma for people like me,” Mitchell Langsam, a Long Island resident and recovering opioid addict for 12 years, said. “I play music in a church band dedicated to spreading hope for recovery. We participate frequently in walks and events to spread awareness. And it’s still hard to talk about with my name attached to it. Unfortunately, when using, I’ve hurt friends and family and while in recovery I’ve been burned by struggling addicts. I’ve seen people die from addiction and I’ve seen people grow. Helping the ones I’ve helped outweigh the burns though.” 

A study released on Sept. 4 by the Fiscal Policy Institute , revealed Long Island lost over $8 billion dollars due to the crisis. This includes medical costs, loss of worker productivity through illness and addiction and economic losses through money being spent on black markets. 

The report claims that opioid related deaths in 2018 have decreased by 20 percent since the year prior. Despite deaths falling, Nassau County still dealt with over 700 drug overdose related cases last year. Long Island Rehab Centers are still rehabilitating users, the majority (32 percent according to the study) around the ages of 21-30. 

“Yeah, [ we are] seeing a lot of young people [ come in] because of opioids,” Henry, a Long Island Rehab Center representative who asked to keep his last name private, said in a phone interview.