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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Opioid abuse on Long Island: time to examine root causes

Heroine seized in a bust from of a

Heroine seized in a bust from of a multi-million dollar illegal drug pipeline which ran directly from Mexico to New York City and Long Island is on display at the Nassau DA's office on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Here’s some of what we’ve learned about heroin and opiate addiction on Long Island over the past two weeks, according to stories in Newsday:

A first-ever state report on opioid addition showed Suffolk County with the highest number of heroin-related overdoses in New York State between 2009 and 2013.

The waitlist at Suffolk’s four methadone clinics for people who need help has grown to 200 people.

Elected officials in Suffolk want New York State to clear space at two state-owned psychiatric centers to start inpatient drug-treatment programs.

Taken together, those issues reflect the heavy use of opioids in Suffolk. And Nassau, which came in sixth in the state report on opioid-related deaths, is not far behind.

It’s a regional concern — one that’s been building, virtually unabated, for nearly a decade, devastating families in Nassau and Suffolk.

Over the past few years, Long Island has responded with summits and gatherings at libraries, schools and churches, where families and, sometimes, recovering addicts share their stories.

Certainly, it’s no small thing that the drug naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, is now more widely available.

But much of the response to the opioid crisis seems to focus on the issue after it’s already a problem.

Death after overdose.

A waiting line for those already addicted.

And, as yet, no room at either psychiatric center on Long Island for those already in need of outpatient treatment.

Meanwhile, police in both counties keep working to disrupt the flow of cheap heroin and other drugs flowing in to meet the local demand.

Are we missing other ways to prevent or slow addiction?

Yes, there are not enough treatment facilities on Long Island. But, experts point out, there are few 12-step programs in high schools, or sober dorms on college campuses.

“We know what will work,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of Family and Children’s Association, a regional not-for-profit that offers drug recovery programs.

“But we’ve been nibbling around the edges and not getting into what is driving this,” Reynolds said. Addicts who steal to support their habits often make the news, he said, while those who stay clean celebrate in 12-step meetings in church basements.

Reynolds’ list of solutions? The region needs to get serious about prevention, including aggressively going into schools to reach children, and making treatment available on demand by eliminating intrusive paperwork and other obstacles that cause frustrated addicts to turn away. Finally, the region needs to support — and I would add, celebrate — young people in recovery.

Most of those impacted by heroin are young adults, according to the New York State Opioid Poisioning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state legislature. Almost a decade into the crisis, perhaps it’s time for the region to dig deeper, to look not just at the availability of treatment, but to tie in other factors, such as jobs and young people’s prospects for building success on Long Island.

“In treatment, you want kids to realize that there is something more, someplace beyond where they are at the moment,” Reynolds said. “Things get hard when they find themselves living in their parents’ basement, dealing with the stress of working two low-paying jobs.”

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