For the first time, the Nassau County district attorney's office will provide funding for the treatment of heroin addicts who survive overdoses, officials said.
The initiative announced Wednesday will be supported by about $585,000 in asset forfeiture funds -- money seized by the district attorney's office as part of criminal investigations.
The funding will enable Nassau's only doctor-supervised drug crisis center, Maryhaven's New Hope Crisis Center in Freeport, to start treating addicts the moment they arrive in an emergency room, officials said.
"This initiative will close a dangerous treatment gap and help make Nassau County a leader in New York State when it comes to providing heroin and opioid addicts seamless help -- from the ER, to treatment during withdrawal, to long-term recovery," said acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas during a news conference at the crisis center.
Heroin users in New York who survive an overdose -- often thanks to the nasal opiate antidote Narcan -- are currently released back into the community in a matter of hours, allowing the cycle of addiction to continue, Singas said.
Processing the paperwork and getting addicts into an appropriate treatment program can take weeks -- a delay that could lead to crimes aimed at getting the cash to buy more drugs, and more relapses and overdoses, officials aid.
Fatal heroin overdoses have doubled -- from 18 to 36 -- in Nassau this year through Aug. 31, compared with the same period last year, according to police statistics.
The district attorney-funded program at New Hope aims to reverse that trend, officials said.
Due to limited staffing, New Hope is currently not able to admit patients during overnight periods from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends. The funding from Singas' office will allow round-the-clock treatment, New Hope officials said.
The center's intake process will begin with vans that go to hospital emergency rooms or other agencies in Nassau to pick up overdose victims or others needing drug treatment.
The funding, which starts immediately, will also allow New Hope to hire more medical and psychiatric staff, who will be able to provide medications to those who need them, while other added staff will help patients obtain the next phase of treatment through private insurance or Medicaid.
New Hope officials said the money will allow the center to treat up to 30 patients at any given time, including those brought in overnight from emergency rooms.
The funding from Singas' office will be enough to pay for the initiative for one year, after which time she said she expects the state will fund the initiative.
Most of New Hope's funding now comes from the New York State Office for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.