HAUPPAUGE, NY – On Monday, December 31st, 2018, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and the members of the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel released their final report, which includes a detailed outline of the panel’s actions, findings, and recommendations. The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel was created via resolution 704-2017 Establishing a Permanent Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker. Legislator Anker drafted the resolution in response to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic in Suffolk County and across the nation.
“Over the past year, the panel has advocated for helping those struggling with addiction. The panel has revised recommendations to aid officials in addressing areas of concern for doctors, health professionals and addiction counselors across Suffolk County,” said Legislator Anker. “The Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel’s final report provides insight by surveying hospitals, resource centers, and addiction professionals, and has analyzed police reports to create a solid framework for officials to continue to work proactively in addressing the opioid epidemic. The opioid crisis is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to do everything in my power to address this national epidemic.”
The panel was formed to bring together elected officials, governmental departments, school representatives, medical professionals, mental health counselors, and non-profit organizations throughout the region in a coordinated effort to address the many substance abuse concerns that affect Suffolk County residents. Panel members include representatives from the Legislature, including the Chairs of the Public Safety and Health Committees. The panel also includes representatives from the Suffolk County Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Health Services, as well as local rehabilitation providers, advocacy groups, hospitals, and the Suffolk County Superintendents’ Association.
The panel was established with the goal of providing ongoing guidance and input to the county in combating the opiate epidemic through preventative education, enhancement of law enforcement efforts, and aiding in the treatment and rehabilitation of those addicted to opiates and heroin. The ever-evolving nature of the opiate epidemic requires continuous commitment to identify new resources and additional funding sources, and provide for greater focus on educating the public about addiction.
“The panel recognizes that there is a major focus on implementing many of the recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels. This report will serve as a guideline to assist those in government working to create policy in identifying priorities. While the panel has made substantial advancements in its first year, the opiate epidemic is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed continuously from all fronts,” said Legislator Anker.
In addition to the previous recommendations, 6 additional recommendations have been added to the advisory panel’s priorities, including:
- Research, assess, and work to address the needs of children who are born opioid-dependent, as well as those who are living in families where addiction is a factor.
- As New York contemplates the legalization of recreational marijuana, there is a need for strong, science-based prevention messages, access to low-threshold psycho-ed and clinical services for young people, and family-based support services for families impacted by marijuana use.
- Increase focus on educating seniors and families about the dangers of substance use among seniors. Senior citizens are at a higher risk due to the fact that they are likely to have pain management needs, are likely to be isolated at home, may forget if and when they have taken their medications, and their lower body weight and physical differences means that they may more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol.
- Expand community-based support services for intergenerational families undergoing changes when children lose parents to the opioid epidemic or are removed from their parents’ care because of untreated addiction.
- Recognize the need to address the prevalence of substance use on Suffolk’s Native American reservations and support the development of health services, treatment services, and recovery support for individuals who live on reservations and would prefer to receive services there.
- Continue to focus on the needs of persons with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. The panel believes that there needs to be an increase in awareness of co-occurring disorders, and that more work needs to be done to integrate treatment and build capacity in service systems to help identify and treat co-occurring disorders.
"While Suffolk County government has made tremendous strides in tackling the opioid epidemic through initiatives such as Narcan training, public education, legislation and grant funding, we recognize that more needs to be done,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. “The recommendations that the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel is putting forth are critical to creating a much-needed county-wide effort that brings together all sectors for a unified effort. I am grateful to the experts and advocates who have given their time and talent to this panel, and I thank Legislator Sarah Anker for her leadership as chair. This thorough report will save lives.”
Suffolk County has been proactive in working to address the opiate epidemic. Our Police and Health Departments have trained over 13,000 individuals to recognize an opioid overdose and administer Naloxone, and have provided Narcan® kits free of charge to residents as part of the Narcan Training Program. In 2015, Suffolk County was one of the first municipalities to bring a lawsuit against the major pharmaceutical companies for marketing opioids without proper warnings as to the addictive nature of the drugs. Suffolk offers free educational presentations for our schools, including “The Ugly Truth” presentation, and provides free drug testing kits to parents through the “Test Don’t Guess” program. Our law enforcement agencies promote the proper disposal of unused medications through “Operation Medicine Cabinet” and “Shed the Meds” programs and have created a new hotline, 631-852-NARC, for residents to report drug activity they may witness directly to the police department’s narcotic division.
In October of last year, the Suffolk County Legislature unveiled a new mobile app to provide access to drug addiction services for those needing assistance. The app, “Stay Alive L.I.”, provides access to vital information on drug addiction services, locations of hospitals and treatment centers, and links to organizations and crisis centers. In addition, Suffolk County contracts with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) to offer a 24/7 substance abuse hotline (631-979-1700) to provide continuous access to services for the residents.
The Suffolk County Police Department has adopted a new county-wide program in collaboration with LICADD called “PIVOT” (Preventing Incarceration via Opportunities for Treatment) to redirect individuals with Substance Use Disorder and connect them to treatment. The program has been extremely successful in diverting individuals to treatment where they can receive the care they need.
In addition, individuals with Substance Use Disorder who are arrested in Suffolk County now have the ability to take part in the Drug Treatment Court. Drug Court is a specialized part of the Suffolk County District and Criminal Courts that offers a court-supervised alternative to incarceration. The Drug Treatment Court combines the resources of the court, law enforcement, substance abuse, and mental health service providers to bring effective intervention to individuals caught in the cycle of substance abuse and crime.
While the county has taken many steps toward proactively addressing the epidemic, there is still much more to be done. The panel was formed to ensure that we are putting our resources where they are most needed. In addition to updating and focusing on the prior recommendations, the panel has collaborated and succeeded in accomplishing additional initiatives, including:
- Partnering with LICADD to promote the “Hey Charlie” opiate PSA for students and parents of young adults.
- Working with the Suffolk County Legislature and County Executive Steve Bellone to purchase a Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer which will assist the county’s crime lab in identifying fentanyl analogs and traces of illicit drugs in samples provided by the police department. This is an extremely important tool that will aid in additional search warrants and arrests in cases of drug sales.
- Collaborating with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and LICADD to institute the the “Jail to Community Overdose Prevention Program” to allow inmates leaving the Suffolk County jail to be trained to administer Naloxone and providing them with Narcan®.
- Partnering with Suffolk County’s Drug Treatment Court and LICADD to require that all Drug Court graduates be trained to administer Narcan® and provided with kits through the Drug Court Overdose Prevention Program.
- Working with the Suffolk County Police Department to improve data collection. Through panel discussions, the Police Department has updated its data intake forms to create a more efficient way of collecting important data associated with Narcan® saves throughout Suffolk County.
- Initiating preliminary discussions with the MTA and LIRR regarding certifying train conductors to administer Naloxone and having Narcan® kits available on trains.
The data collected and compiled in the final report by the panel provides a solid foundation for local elected officials and municipal agencies to continue work to address opioid epidemic concerns within their respective districts. The report is available to view on the Suffolk County Legislature’s website: https://www.scnylegislature.us/1057/Heroin-and-Opiate-Epidemic-Advisory-Pane
For more information please contact Legislator Anker’s office at (631) 854-1600.