Suffolk County awarded a $60,000-a-year grant Wednesday to expand a 24-hour substance abuse hotline for heroin and opioid addicts, despite calls from Republicans that the contract be put out to bid.
The award will fund a licensed clinician at the Mineola-based Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) and shore up the group’s existing phone system, said Steve Chassman, the nonprofit’s executive director.
The county, Chassman and anti-heroin advocates made the announcement at a news conference only hours after a committee made up of executive and legislative representatives voted 3-0 to waive the usual competitive bid process.
Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) questioned why the contract was not competitively bid. The idea of a central hotline was first proposed in 2012, but went nowhere, Kennedy said.
Trotta said police already give out dozens of crisis, treatment and counseling center phone numbers, most of which operate 24 hours a day. He also noted that Chassman testified at the county legislature backing the confirmation of new Suffolk police Commissioner Tim Sini.
“It’s the kind of thing that has gotten Nassau County in trouble,” Trotta said. “They jump into things without planning, especially when we have 70 other numbers to provide service.”
Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said he was seeking a waiver because “it’s very clear that we have an opioid epidemic and there is a lack of coordinated care.”
Tomarken said the number would offer services including an initial screening, referrals and follow-up services. He said the phone number, which hasn’t been determined yet, would be live within a month.
While a nonprofit clinical health worker will staff the service, the county will “provide oversight, gauge effectiveness and trends in the community,” Tomarken said.
The number will be promoted by county public service announcements. Tomarken said it will focus on pregnant women and new mothers, citing a Newsday report in December that Suffolk had the second highest rate of heroin addicted infants.
Tracey Budd, a Rocky Point mother whose son died of an accidental overdose in September 2012, approached Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office in 2014 about the idea of a hotline.
“I know what it’s like to be in the throes of being so afraid, not know where to turn or what to do,” she said. “We need someone for us 24/7.”
Chassman said the group has been running its 24-hour-a-day hotline for five years. He said the money will allow them to handle an increased call volume and expand the program. The grant is prorated for $45,000 this year.