Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday a $7.5 million initiative to expand substance abuse addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services throughout New York State.  Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

State officials announced a $7.5 million initiative to expand substance abuse addiction services during a forum Wednesday in Southampton where speakers also discussed the future of combating the opioid crisis.

The funding, disclosed by Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, is to be split  among prevention, treatment and recovery programs statewide. New York was awarded the money via a federal State Opioid Response Grant in late 2018, according to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

“I want to see what comes from this,” said Teri Kroll, 60, of Lindenhurst, whose son Timothy fatally overdosed in 2009 at age 23. “Let’s see that money get to work.”

Kroll was one of more than 300 people from law enforcement agencies, neighborhood task forces, medical providers, community organizations and schools who attended Wednesday's forum at the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons. The forum was sponsored by Suffolk County and the Rockefeller Institute of Government, an Albany think tank, as part of  the county's "Stories from Suffolk" partnership, and featured two panels, titled “Prevention and Environmental Strategies” and “Treatment and Recovery Strategies.”

Rockefeller Institute president Jim Malatras said his think tank’s research into the opioid crisis began about a year and a half ago in Sullivan County and has been expanding to other counties.

“There is no greater challenge than the opioid epidemic,” Malatras said. “We’re here to tease out what really works and what doesn’t work.”

The $7.5 million funding announced Wednesday includes $3.5 million to establish medication-assisted treatment services at federally qualified health centers in each of the 10 Empire State Development Regions. Long Island makes up one of the regions and a center could receive up to $350,000, according to the governor's office.

Long Island emergency departments and community-based treatment providers are also eligible to partner to apply for funding up to $350,000 to expand the availability of buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction. The governor's office has also allocated $1.815 million for up to 11 classroom prevention programs, as well as $100,000 to create peer recovery networks for youth and young adults.  

“We’re certainly going to be looking to access that funding to continue our efforts,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “The message in the room is clear: We will not take our foot off the pedal until we get those deaths down to zero.”

Authorities touted a decline last year in fatal opioid overdoses on Long Island, from a high of 614 in 2017 to 483 in 2018, according to preliminary data. In the past nine years,  about 3,685 people fatally overdosed on opioids Islandwide.

“Everybody knows someone whose lives have been touched by this — everyone,” said Hochul, whose nephew fatally overdosed. “Thirty-seven hundred lives are not lost on Long Island without everybody knowing a family member, a coworker, a neighbor.”

Officials said, however, that more work must be done — including the establishment of a recovery high school and services that treat addiction and mental illness simultaneously — to eliminate the epidemic. 

“What I hope to see is a continued reduction in overdoses but not just that, but getting our communities well,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, the keynote speaker, said in an interview.

Officials also urged attendees to work with local advocates, law enforcement, schools, clinicians and other groups to collect community-level data to see if opioid addiction policies are, in fact, effective.

“Good policy is informed by good science, which is informed by good data,” said panelist Dr. Leslie Marino, an assistant professor at Columbia University. “Let’s fund what works.”

Hochul called the renewed efforts “the beginning of the end" of the opioid addiction epidemic.

“We’re looking to Suffolk County today as the place where new ideas will come from,”  she said.

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