Smithtown officials, worried about the growing use of illegal drugs, five years ago began seeking a new home for the town's substance-abuse center.
That effort culminated recently in the opening of Horizons Counseling and Education Center's two-story office in Smithtown's Main Street business district. With the help of $3 million in state funding, Horizons has more space -- and a more inviting atmosphere.
Judging by the reaction of clients such as Anthony Hess, the town has gotten its money's worth. When Hess, 28, of Smithtown, entered the new office last week at 161 E. Main St., he thought it might be drab, even intimidating.
Instead, he said, he was pleasantly surprised by the 7,400-square-foot office's bright colors, high ceilings and resplendent tile floors.
"I said, 'This is actually pretty nice.' People were nice," said Hess, who sought help in getting back his driver's license after a drunken-driving arrest last year. "It wasn't like you were going into a slum place . . . I had a really good vibe when I walked in the place for the first time."
In making the move, their latest step against drug and alcohol abuse in the town of 121,000 people, officials imagined the former golf supply store as a welcoming place that would encourage people to seek treatment.
The program formerly occupied a 4,000-square-foot space it shared with the town's Engineering Department.
"We were so, so cramped," said Horizons director Elaine Economopoulos. "We can now provide as many services as the space will allow . . . We can tweak programs and add to programs."
Economopoulos called substance abuse "a disease of affluence," pointing to medications such as OxyContin, a narcotic pain pill, that are readily available to teenagers and others seeking to get high. Horizons served 243 clients in 2011.
Smithtown's drug problem gained notoriety in November 2009, when 11-year-old town resident Courtney Sipes was killed on Main Street by a 20-year-old driver high on heroin.
"The drug problem has grown with the arrival of the prescription opiate drug trend," Economopoulos said. "At one point, Smithtown was the front-page poster child of the drug problem in Suffolk County."
Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said the town used state aid to buy the building for $1.5 million and then renovate it for an equal amount. "There was always a need for expanded services," Vecchio said. "It's expanding our reach into the community."
Many adult Horizons clients are there for court-ordered counseling after drug and alcohol arrests, Economopoulos said. That's what brought Hess to Horizons on Thursday.
"Everything was immaculate," Hess said.
Change among clients
Marijuana use is down among Horizons clients, while heroin use is up. Meanwhile, the percentage of high school-age clients has dropped.
Primary substance used, 2007
Alcohol: 36.5 percent
Marijuana: 34.3 percent
Heroin: 5.2 percent
OxyContin: 2.6 percent
Other opiates: 5.2 percent
Primary substance used, 2011
Alcohol: 56.6 percent
Marijuana: 19 percent
Heroin: 11.9 percent
OxyContin: 2.7 percent
Other opiates: 3.5 percent
Age of clients, 2007
12-15: 9.1 percent
16-18: 32.2 percent
19-21: 9.6 percent
26-35: 13.5 percent
Age of clients, 2011
12-15: 4.9 percent
16-18: 27 percent
19-21: 18.6 percent
26-35: 14.2 percent