U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer urged the federal government on Thursday to help Long Island drug treatment providers receive additional funds to address a surge in substance abuse and fatal overdoses sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Citing data first reported by Newsday last month, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said federal assistance is needed to address the projected 34% jump in fatal overdoses in Nassau in 2020 and the projected 12% increase in Suffolk.
"The pandemic has taken such a mental toll that some of us here need more help than others to overcome new challenges and struggles related to mental health and happiness," the Senate majority leader said at a news conference outside CN Guidance and Counseling Services in Hicksville.
"Long Island’s —and even New York’s — increased mental health struggles are an overall silent but devastating effect of this pandemic, with more people than last year reporting the onset of symptoms like depression, anxiety and others," Schumer added.
Addiction experts and law enforcement officials have said the gains made on Long Island in the war against opioids were erased in 2020 because of the social isolation, financial anxieties and mental health challenges caused by the pandemic.
"When Sen. Schumer was reading the numbers of people dying, I was thinking of the names of people I knew who passed away in this past year," said Alexis Jinks, a peer recovery advocate at the THRIVE outreach center in Westbury.
As Newsday reported in April, there were 287 projected fatal overdoses in Nassau last year, a 34.1% increase over 2019. Suffolk reported 390 fatal overdoses in 2020, an 11.7% increase over 2019.
"The steps we took to protect ourselves and our families from COVID also put many at risk for the anxiety and depression that comes from social isolation, uncertainty about the future and economic stress," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association, a Nassau organization that provides treatment to thousands of Long Island residents ever year. "As a result, fatal drug overdoses are at an all-time high."
Schumer called on the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to work with Long Island treatment providers to access funds provided in recent COVID relief legislation.
The senator urged Long Island treatment providers to apply for Community Mental Health Block Grants and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants, which proved direct funding to community organizations. Congress allocated $1.5 billion for each program in COVID relief legislation.
Schumer also urged organizations to apply for federal grants for mobile crisis intervention services. CN Guidance and Counseling Services operates the only two mobile treatment vehicles on Long Island.
"These critical funds will give our community the resources to deploy many tools in our fight to help people struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders, said Jeffrey Friedman, CN’s chief executive officer.
Schumer also urged SAMHSA to help Long Island treatment providers with funds to expand access for mental health treatment in community-based clinics as well as overdose prevention, needle-exchange programs and other harm reduction services.
"We have to get word out across Long Island, before this crisis deepens, that this money exists and that you have to apply and that my office can help," Schumer said.