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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Tragically, heroin scourge among LI youth nothing new

A sleeve of heroin packets is shown at

A sleeve of heroin packets is shown at the Suffolk County Police Department headquarters in Yaphank, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Island's spent a lot of brain power trying to keep young people from leaving. But the latest available numbers on heroin overdose deaths in Nassau and Suffolk ought to redirect significant regional effort toward keeping our young people alive.

Between 2010 and 2013, according to a report in Sunday's Newsday, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Suffolk almost doubled; in Nassau the number almost tripled.

Even more horrifying is where some of the deaths are clustered: In 2013 alone, Massapequa and nearby communities lost 20 to heroin -- the largest number in Nassau.

How can that be possible when, eight years ago, that cluster of communities was galvanized to fight heroin after the death of Natalie Ciappa, a Plainedge high school student whose frantic parents discovered her dead of a heroin overdose in a Seaford garage where she'd attended a party.

Eight years.

Ciappa was 18 when she died; and her parents made it their mission to spare other parents grief. But the ranks of grieving-turned-activist parents, friends and families across Long Island kept growing.

At one point, Newsday put the spotlight on Smithtown, a community grappling with a rise in teen heroin use. Since January 2006, the story noted, 30 people died of heroin or other opiate overdoses there.

That story was published seven years ago.

Susan Roethel founded The Fallen after her daughter Megan died of a heroin overdose. Roethel's efforts helped fill St. Patrick Church in Huntington for an educational forum and candlelight vigil.

That was two years ago.

All of which means that Long Island, for years now, has been well aware that heroin was killing our young people.

Last week, new federal data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that drug and alcohol use among youths -- ages 12 to 17 -- was continuing a yearslong decline. Among all groups, according to a summary of the 2013 survey, drug use trends essentially were flat.

A look at the full 2011 national survey, which includes specific information on heroin, showed that the number of Americans who then identified themselves as current users were similar to the numbers from 2006 through 2010.

The survey does not break out numbers for specific communities. But anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Long Island could be headed in the opposite direction.

At minimum, logic would indicate, more local deaths in 2013 likely would have meant more local users.

As Sunday's Newsday reports, some things have changed: Patrol officers in Nassau and Suffolk now carry Narcan, a drug that can keep an overdose from killing. In Nassau, the county has expanded training on how to use the drug to family and other non-law enforcement and medical personnel.

And there's been a renewed push for more local treatment beds, especially for adolescents, and changes in policies for insurers, who often have raised barriers for addicts seeking treatment.

But as disturbing as the 2013 heroin-overdose death statistics are, there's still a chance those numbers can grow -- since toxicology and other medical reports could add more victims to the list.

As for 2014, those numbers are still being compiled. Still, consider: Recently, a joint law enforcement operation raided a Brentwood home that had been turned into a drugmaking factory. There were loaded guns -- one of them cocked -- at each workstation; and tens of thousands of dollars in cash in a duffel bag and a shoe box.

Customers -- of all ages and incomes -- were plentiful enough that the factory offered home delivery.

Heroin is cheap. And the supply on Long Island is plentiful.

Which is all the more reason to pay as much attention to the young adults still here, as to those the region wants back.

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