Fatal overdoses are up 40 percent in Nassau County since the pandemic began, according to police reports of suspected overdoses. Non-fatal overdoses increased by 7 percent this year, Nassau police said.
As of May 15 of this year, 57 Nassau residents died from overdoses and there were another 186 non-fatal overdoses. The same time period last year saw 34 fatal and 173 non-fatal overdoses.
As Long Island begins to reopen, advocates in the field of substance abuse treatment and prevention say the spike in drug overdose deaths likely culminated from joblessness, stress, and isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the Press reported that Suffolk County has seen a 43 percent increase in fatal overdoses since the pandemic began, according to police reports of suspected overdoses. Non-fatal overdoses increased by 19 percent this year.
Cindy Wolff, executive director of Tempo Group, an addiction treatment center in Nassau, called the numbers of overdose deaths “staggering.”
“It would be hard to say exactly why this is, but I would suspect that as our state and nation struggle with coping with this global pandemic, more people are isolating and possibly turning to substances to cope and perhaps their use has increased during this time, lending to the increase in overdoses,” she said.
The increase in overdoses on Long Island comes months after officials in both Nassau and Suffolk reported a downturn in fatal overdoses of between 18 percent and 24 percent from 2018 to 2019.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not respond to requests for comment but Omayra Pérez, director of community services in Nassau’s Department of Human Services, released a statement last month saying 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.
“Nassau County has not forgotten about the many families dealing with mental health and addiction challenges especially during COVID-19,” Perez said in a statement released to the Press. “As a result, the county’s 227-Talk Helpline is fully operational providing crisis counseling and referrals to mental health and addiction providers. In addition, the county’s mental health and addiction providers are offering on-site and virtual services which include Medication Assisted Treatment Services for those individuals struggling with opioid addiction.”
Wolff, who heads one of the county’s treatment providers, said “the support our agencies have continued to provide our communities, currently and in the future, are and will be incredibly important as we all try to cope during the pandemic and post pandemic.”
But Wolff, who also co-chairs the Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services, said that fears around COVID-19 and exposure to the illness might be keeping individuals from seeking help.
“It’s important to let them know that almost all Nassau agencies remain open, albeit in different capacities — telehealth and remote services — but we are here and offering services, that does also include inpatient/residential services,” she said.
“With that said, we fear the future of funding and budget cuts,” Wolff added. “We know that with the impact on the economy, especially in NY state, funding for services for [substance use disorder] education, prevention and treatment could be in jeopardy, and especially at a time that we are needed the most. 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 to address these growing needs.”
New York State has set up a COVID-19 emotional support helpline 1-844-863-9314 that is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days a week.
People can also call New York State’s addiction service’s hotline: 1-877-8-HOPE-NY.
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.
Those individuals in need of immediate addiction services may contact the Nassau County Opioid Treatment Program located at 2201 Hempstead Tpke., Building K, East Meadow, or call 516-572-5906 or 516-572-6305.
Nassau residents can also access available treatment resources by downloading the Nassau CARES App.
Also, Narcan Kits and training on using them, are available to Nassau County residents for free. Below is a list of organizations who you can contact to obtain a kit:
Community Action for Social Justice: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kassler Foundation: 516-297-2481 GarrettsProject@yahoo.com
NCDHS: 516-227-7023, email@example.com
Town of Hempstead: 516-897-4110, firstname.lastname@example.org
YES CCC: 516-799-3203 x113, email@example.com
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For more coverage of the opioid crisis, visit longislandpress.com/tag/the-opioid-crisis