Suffolk County police are steering some drug addicts who have not committed any crimes into treatment programs as part of a pilot project to address the opioid epidemic, the police commissioner said Monday.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said his officers would identify suspected drug abusers and turn their names over to the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, or LICADD, which will counsel them to voluntarily enter a treatment program.
The experiment, which began on Oct. 23 in the Sixth Precinct, comes amid a record number of fatal opioid overdoses on Long Island. More than 500 people died from opioid overdoses on the Island last year, with 349 of those in Suffolk, according to the medical examiner’s offices in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Suffolk police said they responded to 1,563 incidents involving nonfatal overdoses in 2016, and 1,528 through Oct. 28 this year. More than 400 of the nonfatal overdoses each year occur in the Sixth Precinct, which consists of several hamlets and incorporated villages within the Town of Brookhaven.
“We selected the Sixth Precinct because that’s where we see the most overdoses,” Sini said at a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank.
Sini said the program is being funded with money from the police department’s federal justice asset forfeiture fund, which currently has about $1 million in it, to pay social workers and others who are doing the outreach.
The police department, however, is not paying for the cost of treatment. It could cost $28,000 a month to treat one person, according to John Venza, vice president of Adolescent Services for Outreach Development Corp., a substance-abuse treatment organization with offices on Long Island.
Once an addict agrees to get treatment from a program licensed by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the cost will be paid by the program delivering the services. Funding for each program varies, but the sources can include private insurance, Medicaid, federal and state funds, grants, as well as money from those who pay out of pocket, Venza said.
Since the pilot project started, the police have made one referral and that person was placed into a treatment program, according to the department.
Officers use myriad ways to identify drug abusers, Sini said, including calls for drug overdoses, customer lists recovered from busted drug dealers, and pawnshop records. Sini said drug addicts sell valuables — such as jewelry — to pay for the drugs.
The pilot program will run for “several months,” Sini said. If officials deem it a success, he said he will expand the program to all seven precincts.