A place to turn for help

File photo.

A place to turn for help

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
4/7/2016


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Substance abuse in Suffolk County—opioid addiction in particular—has grown to epidemic proportions. All to often, when the abuser or their caregiver is in need of support and guidance during a crisis, there is no help available, especially after business hours. Now, thanks to Suffolk County Department of Health and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—a partnership that is being fiscally supported by the county—there will always be a place for them to turn.

As of April 1, the county and LICADD have been operating a hotline (979-1700) for that purpose 24/7. The LICADD professionals manning the phones will be able to provide the caller with assistance for screenings, referrals and follow-ups.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokesperson for the county, said that the hotline is vital to the crisis the county is facing. “We have to use [everything] available to address this problem.

“Having the hotline with all of the resources in one place is so beneficial,” she noted, and used an example of an ER doctor who explained his frustration after trying to get information for a patient that needed a referral after 11 p.m. “This hotline makes perfect sense,” she said.

“Too many people require help [before 8:30 a.m. and after 9 p.m.],” said Steve Chassman, LICADD executive director. Although LICADD has had a hotline running for the past four years, Chassman said the extended hours would make a big difference. He noted that on average, his agency receives 1,132 calls a month.

“A lot of those calls are from families needing support,” Chassman said. “Ultimately, we want to get people into treatment.”

The Mineola-based LICADD is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1956 to address addiction and to help individuals, families and children overcome the many problems that result from it. In addition to providing services and referrals, they promote awareness of the issue through education and advocate for legislation to better deal with the problem of addiction. Chassman said that LICADD, which has never turned a person away because of the inability to pay, had helped champion the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that requires insurance health plans to provide equal treatment for mental health and substance abuse. The New York version of this federal law states that insurance companies must provide at least 60 outpatient visits in any calendar year for the treatment of substance use disorder, of which up to 20 may be for family members as well as inpatient substance use disorder treatment, including detoxification and rehabilitation services. Chassman said extending those covered services to family is so important. “Addiction is very much a family disease,” he said.

Every year LICADD speaks to around 30,000 students in kindergarten through high school to educate them on the dangers of alcohol and drug use. In addition, the organization has trained 4,000 people on how to use the drug Narcan, which can reverse a potentially fatal opioid overdose, thus saving lives. Although the number of deaths due to overdose is decreasing because of Narcan, the danger persists. “There are not less sick people,” Chassman noted, “just less fatal overdoses. Narcan is not a magic bullet. They still need follow up care.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone concurs, noting that the county is facing an opioid epidemic of “historic proportions.” “We need to tackle this epidemic on all fronts — including prevention, treatment and law enforcement,” he said, adding that his administration has made this issue a top priority. “The creation of a local 24/7 hotline is now another tool in our arsenal to assist those who are battling opioid and heroin addiction and their families.”

The hotline number is 979-1700. For more information about LICADD, go to the website: www.licadd.org.