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LI’s opioid epidemic costs businesses millions, experts say

William Reitzig, of Fabco Industries Inc., during a

William Reitzig, of Fabco Industries Inc., during a panel discussion about the opioid crisis held at the Long Island Association business group in Melville, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Long Island’s opioid epidemic is costing businesses millions of dollars each year in lost worker productivity, workplace accidents and, in some cases, holdups by addicts seeking money to support their habit, experts said Friday in Melville.

Addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin and other drugs is no longer solely the province of teenagers and twenty-somethings. Increasingly, people in their 30s, 40s and 50s — the prime working years — are addicted as well, according to research from Stony Brook University.

The personal toll of addiction is enormous, but so is its economic effect.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the opioid crisis is costing the U.S. economy up to $79 billion per year for increased law enforcement and drug treatment as well as business disruption.

“In every business there is somebody with an addiction problem,” said William Reitzig, an executive with storm water filters manufacturer Fabco Industries Inc. in Farmingdale. His 25-year-old son, Billy, died last year of an apparent heroin overdose.

Reitzig was among five speakers at an event Friday organized by the Long Island Community Foundation and the Long Island Association business group.

His son’s seven-year addiction to painkillers, first prescribed to treat an arm broken during a baseball game, cut into the time that Reitzig spent running the now-closed Sports Plus entertainment complex in Lake Grove.

“It affected me every day . . . A couple of times I just dropped everything and left and went home to see my son,” Reitzig told the audience of 35 people.

He also said his son’s death robbed his former employer, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in White Plains, of a trained employee just starting a career that should have lasted decades. Last year, the Reitzig family started Hope Walk for Addiction to raise funds for Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, which helps addicts.

Audience member Gregory P. Demetriou, CEO of the printing and marketing company Lorraine Gregory Communications in Edgewood, said that the 25-year-old granddaughter of one of his employees had recently overdosed.

“This touches all businesses in all kinds of ways,” Demetriou said. “The poor woman and her family are brokenhearted and I don’t know when she will be able to come back to work.”

The opioid crisis affects the economy in myriad ways.

“It goes much beyond you having an employee who is addicted,” said David M. Okorn, executive director of the Melville-based community foundation. “It’s the banks, the stores, the pharmacies that are getting held up . . . It’s the employee that may not be focused while they are at work because their child, spouse or distant relative is addicted.”

The foundation recently launched the Opioid Crisis Fund to raise money for treatment programs in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The Family and Children’s Association, a Mineola-based not-for-profit, recently opened a facility to help addicts in recovery search for employment, maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay off drugs.

Association CEO Jeffrey L. Reynolds said he was surprised when 13 landlords refused to rent space to its Center for Transformation, Healing, Recovery, Inspiration, Validation and Empowerment or THRIVE. The state-funded facility eventually found a home in Islandia.

Reynolds said, “The opioid crisis is the single-biggest public health threat to Long Island right now.”

Drew Scott, an advocate for drug treatment on the East End and former News 12 Long Island anchorman, agreed, urging business executives to help to combat addiction. His 22-year-old granddaughter, Hallie Rae Ulrich, was found dead last month in East Hampton after an apparent overdose.

“For too long we’ve kind of swept this problem under the rug, tried to look the other way,” Scott said. “But now it is confronting us.”

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