TODAY'S PAPER
40° Good Evening
40° Good Evening
Long Island

Number of heroin deaths on Long Island soars

Heroin shown at the Suffolk County Police Department

Heroin shown at the Suffolk County Police Department headquarters in Yaphank on Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

Heroin killed a record-high 144 people on Long Island in 2013, as an oversaturated drug market forced street prices for the drug down and addicts continued to turn away from costly opioid pain pills, according to government records.

The newly released data show deaths linked to heroin rose in both counties last year. The drug, which played a role in 38 overdose deaths in Suffolk in 2010, killed 100 people in 2013, county records show. In Nassau, where heroin was linked to 23 overdose deaths in 2010, 44 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013, records show.

As heroin claimed more lives, opioid pain pills killed fewer people than in years past. In Suffolk, pain pills containing opioid medications -- oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone -- played a role in 137 overdose deaths in 2012 and 107 in 2013, records show. In Nassau, opioid pills were linked to 56 overdose deaths in 2012 and 43 in 2013, records show.

At least 15 additional fatal overdoses in Nassau during 2012, and 20 more during 2013, were caused by undetermined opiates -- either pain pills or heroin, records show.

Officials said the overdose totals are subject to change and may rise as new autopsy and toxicology results are finalized. The data show that the impact of heroin and opioid pills on Long Island families -- as well as the region's schools, businesses and treatment centers -- continues to be immeasurable, experts say.

Young men and women are losing jobs due to heroin and opioid addiction, officials say; school-age children are growing up in homes of parents who use; and spots in detoxification programs for young people are in high demand and, in many cases, available only after monthslong waits.

"Use continues to increase, as does the damage done by these substances," said Steven Chassman, clinical director at the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which provides substance abuse services. "They're causing deaths and a host of dysfunction among adolescents and Long Island families."

Also rising are the number of people seeking treatment for heroin and opioid pill addiction on Long Island, experts say. Six years ago, before the opioid epidemic, LICADD typically saw between 300 and 450 people a month at their facilities.

Last month, the organization saw more than 1,030 people -- the highest intake total in its 58-year history, said executive director Rosalba Messina.

 

Available 'everywhere'Current and former heroin users say they have never seen so much strong, cheap product flooding local drug markets.

"Everywhere I go, every party, every neighborhood, it's there and it's cheap," said David Coughlan, a recovering heroin addict from Mastic whose cousin, Avery Coughlan, died of a heroin overdose in Brooklyn in 2012. "When you see a kid, 15, 16 years old shooting up or snorting, it's sad. But that's the way things are right now."

These are among the trends involving heroin abuse in Nassau and Suffolk:

An increase in HIV and hepatitis transmissions tied to intravenous needle sharing, according to health care providers. Specific Islandwide data on such transmissions were not available, but treatment experts say anecdotal evidence points to a significant rise in infections among heroin users.

Narcan, the antidote naloxone, which reverses the toxic effects of opiates overdose, has saved the lives of hundreds of heroin and opioid pill users, including 240 in Suffolk County alone since August 2010, said Dr. Scott Coyne, the Suffolk police department's chief surgeon and medical director. In Nassau, from January through August 2014, paramedics saved about 123 lives with Narcan, according to county statistics.

The oversaturated market for heroin is largely due to a glut shipped here via Mexican drug cartels, including the infamous Sinaloa cartel, federal officials say. With supply at record levels, a bag of potent heroin can be had for as little as $5 on Long Island, officials say, while an 80-milligram opioid pill typically sells for $80 on the black market.

Users who have died of heroin or opioid pill overdoses in Nassau and Suffolk since 2012 have been overwhelmingly white, records show.

The Town of Brookhaven had the highest number of fatal drug overdoses in 2013 (104) in Suffolk, while the Massapequa area has seen the highest number of opioid overdose deaths (20) of any Nassau community since 2012.

Suffolk County authorities alone have destroyed roughly 18,000 pounds of drugs -- many of them prescription pills -- turned in anonymously to county police since 2010, said Chief of Detectives William Madigan.

The Long Island heroin market has become more intertwined with that of New York City, where heroin overdose deaths doubled over the past three years -- from 209 in 2010 to 420 last year, according to city records, treatment experts and law enforcement officials.

"A lot of people, myself included, used to buy in the city. But now the same suppliers are moving their product out to Long Island, so it's basically the same quality and price in a lot of neighborhoods," Coughlan said. "The borders of the city . . . the city versus the suburbs . . . those things don't matter anymore to customers."

 

Officials taking stepsDespite the grim indicators, local officials have hope that heroin deaths may start to wane in 2015.

Among the reasons: Increased use and availability of Narcan in drug-plagued neighborhoods; more participation in I-STOP, New York State's online tracking of opioid pill prescriptions; and two new state laws -- one that will require insurers to cover treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and dependency starting next year, and another that makes homeowners civilly liable for failure to try to get help for overdosing users. "We're hoping it makes a difference and things get better for these families," said Linda Ventura of Kings Park, who led the effort for the insurance legislation after her son Thomas, 21, died of a heroin overdose in 2012. "Things have to change."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: David Coughlan and his cousin Avery Coughlan. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

Latest Long Island News