opioid epidemic

Overdoses are spiking on Long Island due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has reversed progress that the region made in fighting the opioid crisis amid joblessness, stress, and isolation were brought on by COVID-19, data shows.

Fatal overdoses are up 43 percent in Suffolk County since the pandemic began, with 42 residents dying just in the last four weeks, according to police reports of suspected overdoses. Non-fatal overdoses increased by 19 percent this year, Suffolk police said. Nassau County only released the number of non-fatal overdoses for 2020, which are up by eight percent this year, police said. 

“This is a huge concern of ours,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “We talk about a crisis like this and the impact that it has, the emotional impact, the financial impact, just the stress that it causes. It is not a good situation for people who are dealing with addiction issues.”

The statistics show that overdoses claimed the lives of 116 Suffolk residents between January 1 and May 10, compared to 81 residents who died of overdoses during the same time period last year. These numbers only include Suffolk’s five western towns and not the five East End towns.

Research released this week by the California-based public health foundation Well Being Trust found that as many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide because of the pandemic unless access to mental health care and community support are improved. 

“The growing unemployment crisis, economic downturns and stress caused by isolation and lack of a definitive end date for the pandemic could significantly increase the so-called ‘deaths of despair,’” the researchers wrote.

The increase in overdoses on LI comes just weeks after officials in both Nassau and Suffolk reported decreases in fatal overdoses of between 18 percent and 24 percent from 2018 to 2019.

A Nassau official said in a statement to the Press that they do not yet have data on fatal overdoses for 2020 but preliminary data from the medical examiner’s office does not indicate a rise. Treatment and recovery advocates overwhelmingly disagree, telling the Press that anecdotally they are seeing many more fatal overdoses in the last few weeks in both counties.

“The mental health ramifications of this national trauma will need to be dealt with and we need to keep funding and possibly see it grow in order to address these growing needs,” said Cindy Wolff, executive director of Tempo Group, an addiction treatment center in Nassau.

Omayra Pérez, director of community services in Nassau’s Department of Human Services, said the county, more than ever, “is cognizant of the struggles that many families are enduring” in the midst of the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini told the Press that since he was first made aware of the increase, his office have been raising awareness about the issue and increasing outreach to those identified as having substance use disorder either before they get into the legal system, once they’re already in the court system, or when they’re in jail and trying to connect those individuals to treatment. Bellone said the county is leaning on its partnerships with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and its 24/7 diagnostic center DASH.

Sini, a former police commissioner, said he has found that preliminary police data has usually been close to the medical examiner’s statistics, which are based on toxicology reports from autopsies performed on suspected overdose victims.

“We’re trying to touch those suffering with substance use disorder at each juncture … and offer as many resources as we can,” Sini said. “As for the supply side, the pandemic is certainly affecting what we do, but we’re adapting.”

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you or a loved one in Suffolk is suffering with a substance use issue, you can call the Suffolk County hotline at 631-979-1700 for assistance.

People can also call New York State’s addiction service’s hotline: 1-877-8-HOPENY.

NY has set up a COVID-19 emotional support helpline 1-844-863-9314 which is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days a week. 

In Nassau, one can also access the 24/7 helpline at 516-227-TALK (8255) for help finding local resources in mental health, chemical dependency, Covid-19 related inquiries, food resources, bereavement, domestic violence, and legal issues.

For a directory of licensed substance abuse treatment programs in Nassau, visit nassaualliance.org

-With Timothy Bolger

Related Story: Drug Rehabs Help Battle Coronavirus Pandemic While Still Facing The Opioid Crisis

For more coverage of the opioid crisis, visit longislandpress.com/tag/-the-opioid-crisis

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