Fighting drug addiction together
ISLIP—The town’s Opioid-Heroin Task Force held a public meeting on Monday, Oct. 29 at Islip Town Hall West on Main Street. A panel of experts from law enforcement and drug treatment and prevention discussed ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis on Long Island. Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter began the meeting by calling Long Island’s opioid problem a “terrible epidemic” that affects not just our local communities, but the rest of the country as well.
Jim Skopek, Suffolk County Police Department’s first deputy commissioner, said that despite reports in June that opioid overdoses in Suffolk County have dropped 38 percent in the past 12 months, the struggle continues. It was also reported back in April that heroin overdoses in the county were down 80 percent in 2018’s first quarter.
Skopek referred to Suffolk’s recent drug treatment program that looks to divert eligible defendants charged with certain misdemeanor offences away from the criminal justice system. The program, C.A.R.E., allows defendants suffering from substance abuse to participate in the drug treatment program in exchange for the dismissal of the pending charges against them in Suffolk County.
One of the attendees, who calls himself “Scooter Steve,” is a representative from Bikers Against Heroin. He expressed frustration with certain aspects of these practices. But Skopek and the rest of the law enforcement panel, along with other speakers throughout the evening, made the case that this new approach looks to view addiction as a disease to be treated rather than a crime to be punished. “Make no mistake,” Skopek added, “we are prosecuting [drug] dealers to the fullest extent of the law.”
Steve, a Central Islip resident and former drug user, also gave his opinion that there is a lack of police presence at night. “When I was an addict, that was when I prowled,” he said.
Islip resident Patricia Ellmer asked, early in the evening, “How do we prevent people from using?”
Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, along with other speakers, said preventative care starts at a young age. Toulon says he visits schools, from Montauk to Amityville, where he educates students about the dangers of drug use.
Connetquot School District Superintendent Lynda Adams echoed the sheriff’s stance on preventative care, adding that her district has excellent early intervention programs for potential drug users within the school system.
Some children inevitably slip through the cracks. During the family support panel, Islip resident Karen Sweeting told the story of how she lost her school-aged daughter to a heroin overdose. Sweeting said her daughter entered several recovery programs, where she cleaned up for a short time, but eventually fell back into the same habits.
Sweeting also said the common “not my child” notion doesn’t apply to the current opioid epidemic.
An elderly Central Islip resident said crack, not just heroin or opioids, still affects local communities, particularly black men. She said many in the community feel forgotten because public discussion about drug use only started once it began affecting children in upper-middle-class neighborhoods.
“These aren’t young men. Some are in their 50s and 60s,” she said, regarding those battling crack addiction and other substances. “My son has struggled his entire life and I would like to see him get well before I die.”
Bay Shore resident Kurt Kronenberg spoke numerous times throughout the night about the responsibility doctors and pharmaceutical companies bear for the heroin and opioid crisis. “They made us addicts,” he said.
Kronenberg continued by saying he appreciated the panel’s efforts, but told law enforcement officials “not everything is street level.” He also asked the prevention and early intervention panel how they feel about overprescribing medication to children. His question wasn’t clearly answered.
Education and law enforcement officials, along with other experts that spoke throughout the evening, consistently said tackling the opioid and heroin problem is a community effort and everyone needs to get involved.
Steve Chassman, executive director for LI Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, encouraged people to do their research when it comes to sending loved ones to recovery centers out of state, as some states (notably in Arizona, California and Florida) are notorious for failing their patients, despite positive advertising. “It isn’t uncommon for people to have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical bills with their loved one’s ashes standing next to them,” Chassman said.
After the meeting, Samuel Gonzalez told this publication that public forums like these are important in combating opioid addiction. Gonzalez, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1430, said economic hardship (which wasn’t discussed during the meeting) also contributes to the ongoing opioid and heroin crisis. “The tough economy is absolutely a factor,” he said, adding that individuals trying to stay clean often struggle to find a job and eventually start using again.
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