In his first week as Nassau County police commissioner, Patrick Ryder wasted no time deploying his new strategy to take on Nassau County’s most pressing problem: the opioid addiction crisis that killed about 600 people on Long Island last year.
Nassau’s multipronged approach makes sense, but it’s going to demand a long-term commitment, with plenty of analysis, follow-up and resources to learn what works best to stem the tide of addiction and to stop the deaths.
Even before he was confirmed as commissioner, Ryder had a plan to deal with opioid addiction by using new technology to map both overdoses and crimes typically committed by drug users, looking for hot spots in need of police attention. The first community to stand out was Massapequa, which has been ravaged by addiction for several years. Overdoses from heroin, painkillers and powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl are at heartbreaking levels, and the crimes addicts commit to fund habits are prevalent.
In the past 13 months, 87 overdoses have been reported in Massapequa, 12 fatal. In that same period, 159 vehicle break-ins, a crime commonly associated with addiction, were reported.
As a result of this initiative, 59 people were arrested last week in Massapequa on drug charges in the department’s first use of its Overdose Mapping Application Program. Four were charged with dealing drugs, the other 55 with drug possession. Ryder hopes to divert these defendants who are users to Nassau’s Drug Treatment Court for services that can help them recover. Such arrests can shock both addicts and their loved ones, driving home how serious the problem is and creating opportunities and the desire to get help.
Officers distributed flyers telling Massapequa residents about common signs of drug use and to lock their cars. The next part of the strategy comes Tuesday with a town hall meeting for residents at 6 p.m. at the police academy in Massapequa. Drug recognition experts will talk about signs of addiction, and representatives of treatment programs will offer information on how to connect addicts with resources.
Ryder says the department will focus every two weeks on another troubled area and return two months later to see what has changed and what else is needed.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and District Attorney Madeline Singas are focused on the epidemic. Other leaders who say it’s their top priority must back up words with money and clout. Education, awareness, enforcement, diversion and treatment are all part of the solution. But enforcement is a limited tool in dealing with addiction. Nassau lacks resources and funding. More inpatient treatment beds and outpatient programs are needed.
Ryder’s nascent effort offers promise. But it’s going to take a tremendous commitment at every level to end this tragedy.