Suffolk County elected officials, reacting to the county’s No. 1 ranking in New York for heroin-related overdose deaths, called on state officials Sunday to create space for inpatient drug treatment at a pair of state-owned psychiatric centers on Long Island.
Responding to a Sunday Newsday story about Suffolk’s 337 fatal overdoses related to heroin in a five-year period — more than any other county in the state — officials said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should make beds available for inpatient heroin addiction treatment at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood and Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center in Melville.
“It was heart-wrenching listening to a parent of a teenager, in total frustration, not being able to get their loved one into an inpatient facility. . . . Those services aren’t available,” said Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), the ranking member of the health committee.
“Right now we have an epidemic. We need to treat this drug addiction like a mental health issue. Right now we’re just treating it as a crime and a health issue. But it really is a mental health crisis.”
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the governor would have to review specifics of the proposal.
“Combating the nationwide heroin crisis in New York is something we take very seriously, which is why this year’s budget includes $166 million for heroin and opiod treatment efforts -- a $25 million increase from last year.”
The Suffolk overdose victims died during a 60-month period ending Dec. 31, 2013, according to a state report to Cuomo’s office and the legislature. Bronx County ranked second, with 216 fatal heroin overdoses, the study said, with Nassau in sixth, reporting 128.
Treatment admissions for opioid addiction on Long Island rose from 12,887 to 16,681 between 2010 and 2014, the report said, a 29 percent increase.
Pilgrim and Sagamore have occupancy rates hovering in the 20 percent to 25 percent range and could take on heroin addicts immediately, said Raia and Suffolk Legis. William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), chair of the legislature’s Health Committee.
Spencer, a medical doctor who called Suffolk’s heroin problem a “public health emergency” that should receive the same attention as Ebola or Zika, said the drugmakers of prescription opioids, like oxycodone and hydrocodone — considered gateways to heroin use — should help pay for treatment.
“The money is there; it shouldn’t be through lawsuits,” Spencer said. “Let them do the responsible thing.”
Simon Zysman, executive director of Employee Assistance Resource Services, a Smithtown-based outpatient drug treatment facility founded 36 years ago, said he used to treat for mostly alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, but now the majority of his patients are heroin- and opiate-addicted.
“We’re seeing people as young as 14 years of age coming into the clinic in Smithtown for serious intravenous heroin addiction. . . . We need more inpatient beds, more outpatient detoxification programs, supervised residential programs, education in the schools and early intervention programs,” Zysman said.