Eden Laikin and Patrick McIntyre


How DASH Helps Stabilize Addiction Crises on Long Island

The DASH staff offers 24/7 addiction crisis stabilization, even during the pandemic.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had a message during a recent news briefing for residents feeling overwhelmed by substance use, mental illness, and/or other life stressors.

DASH, the New York Metro area’s first crisis stabilization center, is there to ensure that anyone in need of addiction treatment has immediate access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The $4.7 million New York State-funded Diagnostic, Assessment and Stabilization Hub in Hauppauge will provide assessment and referral services at any time — including counseling and medication-assisted-treatment for opioid withdrawal. This saves unnecessary hospitalization and emergency department visits, provides jail diversion services, and manages treatment of coexisting mental health and substance use disorders.

“Long Island’s first Diagnostic, Assessment, and Stabilization Hub will address critical gaps in care, providing life-saving services for our residents,” said Bellone.

The program features a mobile response team of licensed professionals who come to you, will develop a safety plan, and if necessary, recommend outpatient services or a higher level of care.

With schools closed, DASH has not gotten its usual referrals from school officials for adolescents experiencing worrisome symptoms. The center’s staff worries that parents may not recognize signs of potentially serious issues in their children while at home.

“We worry about students expressing depression or suicidal thoughts,” said Karen Boorshtein, president of the Huntington-based Family Service League, a nonprofit that operates DASH. “There’s been a huge reduction in calls for adolescents. They may be hurting and not letting their parents know, they may be involved with drugs and alcohol too.”

Since DASH opened in March 2019, more than 5,400 children and adults have been assessed, treated, or provided with support, according to Boorshtein. The DASH hotline (631-952-3333) has received more than 20,000 calls from those in distress. Its Mobile Crisis Team delivered much-needed crisis care to more than 1,200 individuals by responding to locations throughout the community such as schools, businesses, and private residences.

Police precincts, criminal courts, and hospitals are other agencies that refer DASH services.

“It’s better than referring them to the emergency room,” Boorshtein said. “We’ve taken some of the burden off of the hospitals.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, DASH has been offering a lot more services through telehealth healthcare-assessment technologies and phone sessions. “If they can be screened and assessed remotely, we’ll do that.”

“We’ve seen a bit of a drop-off” in calls for service, Boorshtein said. “Short of an acute emergency, people may say, ‘I can handle it.’ People can go into denial, too, saying ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me.’ But it’s starting to pick up again… People are starting to feel a little safer to venture out.”

Boorshtein recalled an anecdote about a father who tried to bring his 20-year-old son to the DASH center several times. The son had a history of substance abuse and mental illness, was anxious, his life was deteriorating, he was not taking care of himself, he had a bad experience at an emergency room, and he refused to come inside from the center’s parking lot.

“DASH is a voluntary program,” Boorshtein said. “Our team kept trying to engage him in the parking lot. His father was pleading with us to help him. Staff kept going out to engage him, three or four times. Finally, the young man felt like ‘they’re ok’ and agreed to come inside for an assessment.

Before someone leaves DASH, staff will make sure that person has a follow-up appointment with an appropriate care provider.

“We make sure there’s a connection made,” Boorshtein said. “The compliance rate is far greater when they have an appointment. We call the next day and say, ‘Did you go to your appointment?’ If not, we’ll ask them to come back in.”

The DASH facility is a collaborative project between the New York State Office of Mental Health and the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports. The DASH Team includes nurse practitioners in psychiatry who can write prescriptions, registered nurses, social workers, credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselors, and peer specialists. DASH also works with individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, erratic behavior, interpersonal conflicts, and workplace or school trauma.

“Such issues are often debilitating, challenging, and shouldn’t be faced alone,” Boorshtein said, noting that DASH accepts most private insurances, Medicare, Medicaid, and also offers a sliding scale for costs. “DASH provides immediate help.”

DASH is located at 90 Adams Ave. in Hauppauge. It can be reached at 631-952-3333.

THRIVE, A Long Island Recovery Community, Marks Milestone

Members of LIRA closing a meeting THRIVE in Suffolk.

On Sunday, one can learn about nonmedicinal healing modalities or relax with Gentle Flow Yoga. On Monday, one can join a Buddhist gathering to practice dharma or another to learn how to manage anger. On holidays, attendees are invited to celebrate in a strictly substance-free environment.

Other workshops and events are scheduled daily throughout the month, including Debtors Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Steps for Vets, and From Anger to Forgiveness. It’s all at THRIVE, Long Island’s first-ever recovery community and outreach center in Hauppauge, which just marked its third anniversary. The recovery center (its acronym stands for “Transformation, Healing, Recovery, Inspiration, Validation and Empowerment)” opened its doors in March 2017 to serve people addicted to substances as well as family and friends who have been affected. 

“Historically, resources have been poured into front-end services, i.e., treatment, and folks would return to their same communities without any back-end support in place to help them sustain recovery,” Long Island Recovery Association (LIRA)  founder and immediate Past President Richard Buckman told the Press. “Often, they would return to drinking or using drugs.” 

The free and nonclinical center was created in response to the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across the country. Due to the success of THRIVE Suffolk, and the continued need for services and support on Long Island, THRIVE Nassau, in Westbury, was opened in June 2019. 

THRIVE came about after years of advocacy by LIRA, which first identified the need for such a center in 2001. It became a reality 16 years later, with the help of its partner agencies: Families in Support of Treatment (FIST), Family and Children’s Association (FCA), and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD). The group was awarded a $1.75 million grant by the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) to fund the center for five years.

A One Recovery meeting, created by LIRA, is held every Saturday night at Suffolk THRIVE, and was the most well-attended event at the center in 2019 with more than 1,500 participants. The group welcomes all pathways to recovery including Smart Recovery, 12-Step Programs, faith-based recovery and medication-assisted treatment recovery. Family members and significant others are welcome. 

Buckman said One Recovery was created to meet the need of inclusiveness in the local community. 

“It was a bold and risky step that has transformed the recovery process for many,” he told the Press.

“I go to One Recovery because I can be around healthy like-minded people and share my life problems with others who do not judge me,” said Tommy S., a person in long-term recovery. 

According to its website, THRIVE’s mission is to help individuals and families find, maintain, and strengthen their recovery through peer-based support, navigation assistance, and referral services; interactive educational programs that promote wellness, economic prosperity, and civic engagement: and a safe, welcoming haven for substance-free recreational and social activities.

“Three years into THRIVE’s existence, I think we would agree the results have truly been beyond our collective expectations,” Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Drug Dependence and Alcoholism, told the Press.

Reviews left on the THRIVE website echo those sentiments. One person wrote: “A great place to meet people and forge sober bonds.” Another said: “One-of-a-kind place. A blueprint for helping people in need of recovery support.” Yet another penned: “One of the missing components to effectively combatting the addiction epidemic is a place that is safe and nurturing. THRIVE is the bridge back to life and that missing link.”

Free recovery coaching is available at THRIVE, by appointment, as well.

Buckman said that today there are more than 30 recovery community centers up and running throughout New York State. He added that there were more than 12,000 visits to Suffolk THRIVE in 2019, and at least 900 visits to Nassau THRIVE just in the last quarter of 2019.

“The concept of one individual assisting another to forward their recovery process is the foundation of service, compassion, and community,” Chassman said.

THRIVE can be reached at 631-822-3396, 516-765-7600, or thriveli.org Online meetings can be found on their website.

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Recovery High School Idea Advances on Long Island

Claudia Capie Friszell with a photo of her late son, Marc Lewis.

Paulette Perrault Phillippe believes her grandson Gabriel would still be alive if he had gone to a recovery high school after being treated for his first overdose at the age of 15.

Instead, Gabriel went back to his original high school after just eight days of treatment at Mather Hospital in December 2009. Gabriel suffered his second overdose in April 2010. It was fatal.

“He went back to the same high school environment where nothing changed,” Phillippe says. “With a recovery high school to attend after his overdose, I think Gabe would be still with us, thriving and working a program one day at a time.”

The year Gabriel died, the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel began to promote the idea of creating a recovery high school on Long Island. Beginning in 2014, Phillippe and other advocates began annual trips to Albany to ask the state to fund such schools.

This year, nearly a decade later, and amid the deadliest drug crisis in United States history, Phillippe may get her wish.

Western Suffolk BOCES, in partnership with Outreach Development Corporation, is in the process of implementing a recovery high school on Long Island. The location, time frame for opening, and exact budget amounts are still in the planning stages. 

“Recovery high schools allow students in recovery to continue their education in a substance-free and supportive environment, by offering recovery resources and ensuring necessary supports are in place to address the needs and challenges that they face,” Assistant Director of Communications and Public Information Evan Frost of the State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) told the Press. OASAS continues to work in partnership with the State Education Department towards the development of these schools in New York State.

Advocates across Long Island join in celebrating the initiative.

Like Paulette, Claudia Capie Friszell believes a recovery high school could have saved her son, Marc Lewis. He returned to his old high school after eight months of treatment in an adolescent rehabilitation facility in 1998. He relapsed two weeks later. Friszell said there was a lack of much-needed communication between the treatment facility and the school. 

At 16 years old, Lewis was right back to hanging out with old friends, getting high, and engaging in old habits at school. He soon began a downward spiral, she said. In 2000, at the age of 18, he too died of an overdose.

In August 2017, OASAS put out a Request for Information to gauge interest in creating recovery high school models in New York, looking at support required for success and any barriers to implementation. 

Recovery high schools are not a new concept. The national Association of Recovery Schools lists 40 such schools in 15 states. These alternative high schools allow students diagnosed with or at risk for a substance use disorder to receive academic services in a substance-free, supportive environment where being sober is the norm. 

State education officials cited studies that found 70 percent of students attending recovery schools successfully maintain sobriety for a full year after treatment, compared to 30 percent of students who return to their community high schools.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the earlier teens start using substances, the greater their chances of continuing to use substances and developing substance use problems later in life. According to 2019 statistics: about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol by 12th grade; about half of 9th through 12th grade students reported having used marijuana; and about 2 in 10 12th graders reported using prescription medicine without a prescription. Substance use affects the growth and brain development of teens and contributes to the development of adult health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders. 

“I believe if he was able to attend a recovery high school, there would have been a focus on becoming healthy, having support for his addiction, and being placed in an environment where tools for learning self-esteem, self-worth, gratitude and the gift of belonging would be primary,” Phillippe says.

Spinal Adjustments Eyed as Treatment For Addiction

Performing tytron diagnostic scan is the first step in using chiropractic adjustments to treat those with substance abuse disorder.

A simple painless spinal adjustment by a chiropractor could be the latest breakthrough in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. The procedure is being pioneered at a treatment facility in Bethpage.

Bridge Back to Life, an outpatient addiction treatment program, has teamed up with New York Chiropractic College (NYCC) in upstate Seneca Falls to offer the latest breakthrough therapy for substance use disorder. The first-of-a kind partnership, the brainchild of Bridge Back to Life’s medical director Dr. Russell Surasky, brings doctors from NYCC to evaluate and treat the center’s patients undergoing addiction therapy. Several diagnostic tests are performed at the base of the brainstem to determine if a misalignment exists. If present, the practitioners are taught to incorporate gentle painless, corrective spinal adjustments into the patient’s care plan. This treatment reduces stress on the spinal column and limbic system of the brain. 

Surasky says research and clinical experience indicate the brain’s limbic system becomes “hijacked” by drugs such as opiates and alcohol. 

“The limbic system is said to be the most powerful driver of human behavior and perpetuates patients’ cravings to keep using these drugs,” Surasky says. “Safe, painless adjustments to the upper cervical spinal bones can help normalize the brain’s limbic system by helping with the overall circulation of cerebrospinal fluid of the brain.”

Gary Butchen, president and CEO of Bridge Back to Life, says nearly all the center’s patients are receiving the adjustments in addition to Vivitrol and other cutting-edge medications, to help heal from addiction. An official study of patient outcomes is underway.

“I truly believe that this agreement with the college will serve as a national model for drug rehabilitation centers throughout the country,” says Surasky, who is triple board certified in neurology, addiction medicine, and preventive medicine. “Not only can spinal adjustments reduce the chronic pain issues that may have led patients into drug addiction in the first place, but now we also have evidence that spinal adjustments actually accelerate the healing of the brain from addiction.”

Surasky points to a study done in 2001 in the journal Nature: Molecular Psychiatry, which looked at the impact of spinal manipulations at an inpatient addiction treatment facility in Miami. The study found that chemically dependent patients who received specific spinal adjustments as part of their treatment reported fewer drug cravings and mental health symptoms. Moreover, 100 percent of the study patients who received chiropractic care completed the inpatient program, while about half of those not receiving treatments dropped out prior to completion. Yet no further studies were performed, and the information languished. Surasky began treating patients with the spinal adjustments at his private practice in Great Neck before bringing the treatment to Bridge Back to Life.

Mary W. came to Surasky’s Great Neck office for help with alcohol addiction nearly one year ago. She received monthly Vivitrol shots and had marked success in curbing her cravings and drastically reducing her drinking. But Mary still had one-day “slips” from time to time. She also complained of insomnia and migraine headaches. She recalled an accident in the past, where she hit her head. 

Dr. Surasky took X-rays of her upper neck and performed a Tytron scan. He said the digital images showed she had misalignments at the C1 vertebral level, likely putting pressure on the lower brainstem area. In addition to Vivitrol shots, Mary started receiving upper cervical adjustments and has remained sober since. Her migraines have dropped from five per month to one or none and she is sleeping better. 

In a release announcing the initiative, NYCC Associate Dean of Chiropractic Clinical Education and Health Centers Wendy Maneri says the partnership uses “evidence-based practices to deliver chiropractic and provide resources to help people achieve optimal health.”

“We also pride ourselves on delivering alternative solutions to drugs and surgery, which is especially important within the recovery community,” Maneri adds.

The Beading Hearts Helps Parents Grieving Children Lost To Addiction

These mothers of children lost to addiction help each other grieve through beading.

They call themselves The Beading Hearts. Their mission is to heal broken hearts, one bead at a time. Together, the “angel moms” in this unique bereavement group, having lost a child to the disease of addiction, work through unspeakable grief and loss while learning to smile again — together. 

The group uses the love for their lost children to help others who have suffered similarly, part of the collateral damage of the nation’s opioid epidemic. They gather weekly, make inspirational beads, and gift them to those who have also lost a loved one.

“We heal as we talk, laugh, cry, hug, and bead,” says Linda Nuszen, who began The Beading Hearts program.

The group grew out of a nonprofit foundation the Nuzsens created in their son’s honor shortly after he lost his battle with drug addiction in November 2015. It’s called Look Up for Adam. Nuszen said her son used to remind the family to always remember to Look Up — whether you might be feeling down, missing someone above, or wanting to feel like part of something bigger than yourself.

Nuszen soon began making beads the way her son did, giving them to close friends. And so began The Beading Hearts.

Meeting at different members’ houses each week, they share their stories and struggles — honoring angel birthdays and angel-versaries of their lost loved ones to bring healing to the group as a whole. There are laughs and plenty of tears.

They bring the beads to funerals and wakes, giving them to new angel moms so they know they’re not alone. At fairs and other events, they perform community outreach to share their message, “with no judgment and no shame.”

The Beading Hearts visit the Suffolk County jail and sober houses throughout the county to “let those suffering with addiction know it’s not a moral failure.”

“We let them know they matter, people do care about them, they’re not defined by their mistakes or what was done beforehand,” Nuszen says. 

Their message to angel moms: There is reason to smile, find joy, and to give themselves permission to live anew. 

Together with the Family Service League in Mastic, the group just started its first sibling group, which will be run by a social worker.

“The Beading Hearts have helped so many people,” says Janet D’Agostino, one of the founders of the group, during a gathering at Nuszen’s house in Patchogue last month. “When you’re helping others, it’s helping you. It’s a bigger mission than we even know. Out of the worst circumstances come some of the biggest gifts.”

D’Agostino’s son Vaughn lost his battle with addiction in July 2015 at the age of 24. For others at the gathering, the devastating loss was just days or weeks before. Name tags bore the names of the mom and the child she lost. Hugs and kisses were a normal part of greeting each other.

Several of the more than 30 members gathered in Patchogue last month said they were led to the group by their “angel” and they pay forward the love and acceptance they were given — in honor of their child.

Later this month, The Beading Hearts will once again bring a holiday celebration to a female sober house in Mastic. They’ll have gift bags for each of the clients, containing a pink blanket, gloves and a water bottle with the inscription: “Never Give Up, Always Look Up.” Each gift bag will have a personal card written by one of the angel moms.

“We are broken,” Nuzsen says. “That tragedy in our life has broken us into pieces. By being together, we’re able to break open — and in our openness, we are able to find healing and patch the cracks.”

“The heart will never go back to where it was but we’re able to heal, and seal the cracks with love,” she says.


Dental Painkillers: From Extraction To Addiction

More than half the patients getting wisdom teeth removed will leave the dental office clutching a prescription for a powerful opioid pain medication. 

The surgery often comes with pain, so more than two-thirds of patients are prescribed opioids such as oxycodone or Vicodin. The likelihood for chronic opioid use, misuse or dependence meanwhile increases after the third day of use and rises rapidly thereafter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Although sometimes necessary, these pain relievers come with a high risk of addiction.

Experts say dental surgery has statistically been a contributor to the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation, yet its role is often overlooked. Dental clinicians are a potential source of initial opioid exposure and abuse for adolescents and young adults.

“Dentists and patients are well served to consider alternative pain management strategies in connection to wisdom teeth removal, including rest and ice after the procedure and the use of over-the-counter pain medications,” says Dr. Ted Wong, Chief Dental Officer of UnitedHealthcare (UHC). “Recent studies have shown a combination of over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol® and Motrin®, can be just as effective as opioids, without the risk of addiction.”

According to Wong, UHC recently launched several new strategies to combat the opioid epidemic, which include: All first-time opioid prescriptions written by health professionals for UHC members age 19 and under are capped at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day, as recommended by the CDC; informational campaigns have been launched for dental health professionals, the public, and specifically dental plan participants on the risk of opioid misuse among adolescents; and parents are advised to raise questions about opioids prescribed for their children after wisdom teeth removal, including the use of alternative medications for managing pain.

Analysis by UHC officials found that oral health professionals write 12 percent of opioid prescriptions and 45 percent for adolescents — an age group especially vulnerable to addiction, according to Wong. 

A study published in December by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that adolescents who get their first opioid prescription from a dentist or oral surgeon are at greater risk of falling victim to addiction. 

More than 130 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses. Teens are especially at risk. This year, roughly 5 million people in America will have their wisdom teeth removed, including scores of young people in New York State.

Under the new campaign, all UnitedHealthcare dental plan participants with dependents ages 16 to 22 will be mailed information about the risks associated with opioids to help parents and young people identify pain management alternatives and strategies to manage the frequency of use, dosage and proper disposal of unused opioids. 

Public Service Announcements airing on TV and radio help parents and health professionals understand the connection between oral health and the opioid epidemic.      

UnitedHealthcare is also collaborating with health care providers to tailor ways to treat people who are addicted and to support long-term recovery. 

“In addition, parents should be directly involved with dispensing the medication and keep close track of how much has been used and how many pills are left,” Wong says. “Following the procedure, parents can also help keep opioids in a safe place and help with proper disposal of unused medications. We know approximately 70 percent of misused opioid prescriptions were obtained, stolen or purchased from a friend or relative, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s why it is important to keep opioids in a safe place, like a locked cabinet.” 

So far, the UHC initiatives have met with some success.

Dental health professionals identified as among the top 10 percent of highest opioid prescribers in UnitedHealthcare’s network last year received information about their status. Prescribing patterns improved by 17 percent.

UHC is now expanding this campaign to the top 15 percent of the highest prescribers in its network.  

Wong says that for acute pain following wisdom teeth removal, a three days’ supply or less is often all that is needed. 

“If people are experiencing significant pain after that, it is likely a sign of a complication, such as an infection or dry socket, and a follow-up visit to a dental professional is the recommended next step rather than the use of additional opioids,” he says.

For help ending addiction to opioid pain relievers, call the Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, Inc. at 631-979-1700.

New Partnership Closes Treatment Gap

A groundbreaking partnership in Nassau County will close a long-held treatment gap by providing overdose patients with immediate transportation and admission into residential treatment from the emergency room.

The pilot program, years in the making and announced last month, involves Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Northwell Health, Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) and Maryhaven’s New Hope Crisis Center in Freeport. New Hope staff will now be on call to respond directly to hospital emergency rooms to counsel the patient and immediately transport the patient to New Hope to begin treatment.

“They’ll [have] a safe and supportive place to go through withdrawal and to be directed to the next phase of treatment,” Singas said. “Now there will be no delay between the hospital and help.”

In 2018, 123 Nassau residents died of an opioid-related overdose, according to the Nassau County Medical Examiner. There are still 72 cases pending, that may or may not be opioid over-dose-related. In 2017, 184 individuals died of an overdose in Nassau.

While running for District Attorney in 2015, Singas provided $585,000 in criminal asset forfeiture funding to expand New Hope’s services and admission hours to 24/7 coverage. It allowed New Hope to hire a nurse practitioner and psychiatrist to allow admission to patients with underlying mental health issues and to provide medically assisted treatment.

Typically, users who overdose and are revived are stabilized and released from the emergency department because withdrawal is not considered medically life-threatening, according to Singas.

“Typically, the person in crisis is released back into the community during the most violent, painful and difficult throes of withdrawal. This treatment gap leaves many patients on their own, often leading to repeat use that can continue uninterrupted until death,” Singas said. Under this program, “treatment and hope for the future will start immediately,” she added.

“Finally,” said Valerie Labiak of Bellmore. “I remember being in NUMC begging for help, telling them that I couldn’t take [my son, Michael Jr.] home. They gave me the number of a shelter!”

Less than a month later, Michael Labiak was found dead of a heroin overdose at the age of 26.

Now the patient will be assessed to determine the next phase of treatment.

The New Hope staff will assist the patient with any necessary insurance, Medicare or Medicaid paperwork. The patient will remain at New Hope until there is availability in the next program. The average length of stay is seven to 10 days. Nassau University Medical Center has further committed to the efforts to fight the continuing epidemic by making 20 more beds available for detoxing patients. NUMC will also work with Sheriff Vera Fludd to bring the Nassau County Correctional Facility a re-entry program using Vivitrol treatment to prevent relapse in opioid-dependent patients.

“Addiction is a very complex and painful condition that continues to overwhelm families in our local communities, as well as law enforcement and medical professionals who are tasked with providing answers,” says Northwell Health President and CEO Michael J. Dowling. “New Hope will serve as a bridge to treatment for patients in our emergency departments who are struggling with addiction. It’s an important step in our ongoing commitment to alter the course of this crisis.”

For more information on New Hope and other Long Island treatment programs go to heroinprevention.com.

Long Island Recovery Advocates Fight For Sobriety

Recovery advocates lead the charge on the state capitol last year for Advocacy Day 2018.

People who are struggling to get their child into drug treatment, fighting with insurance companies over fairness of coverage for rehab, or having a negative experience with a so called “sober home” are joining forces with other recovery advocates.

And the movement is exploding. The Long Island Recovery Association (LIRA) is a  Hauppauge-based, grassroots recovery community organization. It advocates on behalf of individuals in recovery seeking help for addiction-related illnesses, along with their family and friends. It’s also dedicated to eliminating negative public perception, ending discrimination, and removing barriers to recovery, including those that exist in treatment, housing and employment.

“I saw how difficult it was to find help and how expensive treatment is,” one member who’s the mother of a college student now in recovery said at a recent group meeting. “I’ve met people who had to mortgage their homes and still couldn’t afford treatment. They don’t know where to turn. No one should die because they don’t have enough money for treatment. A lot of our advocacy really does work.”

LIRA was created in January 2000 to give a voice and visible presence to the Long Island recovery community, which until then had primarily remained underground. Each year, the group has organized a trip to Albany to call on state lawmakers to address the addiction crisis in New York State.

While only about two dozen LIRA activists made the first trip to Albany 19 years ago, more than 1,000 advocates are expected to descend upon the state capitol on March 20 to urge passage of bills that would bolster efforts to fight the opioid crisis.

“Today and every day going forward the recovery community has cemented our presence as a constituency of consequence, not only in New York but in communities across the country,” says Richard Buckman, a founding LIRA member and its immediate past  president.

This year, LIRA is advocating for certification of recovery homes so that individuals in early recovery are afforded a safe, supportive living environment. The organization is asking the state to fund a recovery outreach center in each county statewide and to establish recovery high schools, which have been shown to dramatically improve recovery outcomes for teens. They want assurances that anyone in need has 24/7 access to detox, treatment, and recovery support services as well as proactive interventions to assist those in crisis after opioid overdose reversal.

They plan to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to continue working to enforce parity laws in New York State and to hold insurance companies accountable so that people seeking help have access to at least 30 days of inpatient treatment. They support lawsuits that hold opioid manufacturers accountable and demand that revenue generated by such lawsuits be earmarked to support prevention, treatment, and recovery. Lastly, they want to educate the public about the power and promise of recovery.

“This is a day we can combine our voices best to be heard,” says a LIRA member in long term recovery. LIRA’s many advocacy victories date back to its first successful campaign in 2000, when members pushed for an act to amend the Insurance Law in relation to family member coverage for the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse.

More recently, between 2014 and 2016, the group pushed strongly for increased funding to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) budget, resulting in “millions of additional dollars to support recovery services that provided funding for the opening of the THRIVE recovery center here on Long Island and more than a dozen other centers statewide,” Buckman said.

“The legislature needs to hear us,” says an addiction professional who makes the trip each year. “There’s a huge recovery movement. We show up, we recover, and we vote. We have a voice.”

Deadly Fentanyl: Worse Than Heroin

Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine.

Experts say the nation is no longer facing a heroin crisis, it’s facing a fentanyl epidemic.

Fentanyl is now the drug most frequently involved in overdose deaths nationwide, according to a December report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rate of drug overdoses involving the powerful synthetic opioid skyrocketed by about 113 percent each year from 2013 through 2016, replacing heroin as the deadliest drug. In 2016, more than 18,000 fatalities were attributed to fentanyl, according to the CDC.

On Long Island, by 2016, fentanyl deaths on LI outnumbered deaths from vehicle crashes.

Fentanyl is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery but it has in recent years flooded the U.S. market, coming in from China often through Mexico, research shows. The painkiller, about 100 times more potent than morphine, is being mixed in with heroin, cocaine, and other drugs to boost profits and boost the high. Since it’s inexpensive, it’s being “pressed” into fake oxycodone pills — with deadly consequences.

“My findings continue to show that fentanyl is in approximately 90 to 95 percent of all heroin,” says Dr. Russell Surasky, the medical director of an outpatient addiction treatment program in Bethpage who analyzes thousands of urine samples monthly. “Even more frightening is the rise of fake pills which are made from fentanyl … I estimate that about 75 percent of oxycodone pills bought on the street contain fentanyl. In recent months there have been numerous cases of individuals who are dying from ingesting just one of these fake pills.”

In October, President Trump signed into law the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. Effective Jan. 1, 2019, the law mandates that Customs and Border Protection use advance electronic data to screen all international packages — even those delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. A loophole in the global postal system had allowed criminals to ship deadly drugs like fentanyl into the U.S. without detection by law enforcement.

Long Island began to see sharp spikes in fatal fentanyl overdoses after 2012. But it was in 2016 that the number of Long Islanders to die from fentanyl jumped to a startling 289. Part of the rise is attributed to the medical examiners’ offices recognizing new fentanyl analogs, which are drugs that are developed to imitate a particular drug, but with different chemical compounds.

Overall, fatal opioid overdoses on Long Island are down from 614 in 2017 to 483 in 2018, according to preliminary statistics from the county medical examiners.

Garrett Kassler’s family is all too familiar with the popular synthetic opioid. The Plainview man had struggled with heroin addiction for several years but was clean for the months leading up to his February 4, 2017 overdose death. The medical examiner confirmed the 26-year old died from sniffing heroin cut with fentanyl. His parents started the Garrett L. Kassler Memorial Fund to help others suffering with substance use disorder.

“Had it been several years ago, and just heroin, maybe the results wouldn’t have been so catastrophic,” says his father, Lee Kassler. “All it takes is just once. Whoever’s choosing to use today, it’s a death sentence.”

A relapse after a period of sobriety is always a dangerous time for an opioid abuser as their tolerance level is lowered. Fentanyl makes it even more deadly.

“If you know someone who is using opioids, it is an absolute medical emergency which requires urgent help to stay alive,” says Dr. Surasky.


For grief support: compassionatefriends.org

For info and referrals 631-979-1700
24/7 Hotline Long Island Council on Alcoholism And Drug Dependence (LICADD)

For personal recovery: nassauna.org
Nassau Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

If you’re struggling: Vivitrol Information & Support Group, Tuesdays 7- 9 p.m. at St. Bernard’s Parish School, 3100 Hempstead Tpke., Room 209, Levittown.

Pols Eye Opioid Crisis With Pending Legislation

The Drug Take Back Act, a new law taking effect January 6, aims to reduce opioid abuse, while at the same time prevent the contamination of our waterways.

The law requires large chain pharmacies to take back and properly dispose of unused and expired prescription medications for free. Studies show that up to 70 percent of teenagers who abuse prescription drugs get them from their parents’ medicine cabinets. The law would encourage proper disposal rather than flushing unwanted meds down the toilet into the water system.

“This initiative will improve both the environmental health and the physical health of all New York citizens,” said ex-state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who proposed the legislation before losing his seat in November.

From 2010 to 2015, the number of deaths in New York State from drug overdose and chronic drug abuse increased by 71 percent. More Americans died from opioid addiction in 2016 than the total number of Americans who died during the entire Vietnam War. Nationally, there are roughly 2.5 million Americans addicted to opioids.

Several bills which contain tools to fight the opioid epidemic are expected to be reintroduced into the 2019 New York State legislative session.

One is the Senate’s version of the Medication-Assisted Treatment Bill, which would require the state’s 54 jails to provide substance abuse treatment to an overwhelming majority of inmates who are opiate-addicted. Jails would be mandated to offer addiction medications that curb opioid cravings such as injectable Vivitrol or daily doses of methadone, along with counseling and behavioral services. The bill was introduced in the state Assembly last November and in the Senate in June.

“Given that the state Legislature is likely to tackle issues relating to jail reform in 2019, I believe it will be an excellent opportunity to highlight the Medication-Assisted Treatment Bill,” says State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore).

Boyle said funding for the program has been included in the 2018-2019 state budget, with $200,000 each for Nassau and Suffolk jails. In all, the State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid addiction secured $247 million in this year’s budget for related programs including hundreds more residential substance abuse treatment beds throughout the state.

Another package of bills was introduced by Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. One would establish a one-cent per milligram surcharge on opioid prescriptions to fund statewide drug addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. Opioids for Medication Assisted Treatment, cancer and hospice care would be exempt.

Other Rosenthal bills, introduced between January and May, would require organizations to have Narcan (or Naloxone) — the antidote to a fatal opioid overdose — on site, and to have staff trained to administer the lifesaving medication. These include state offices with at least 10 employees, homeless shelters, and handlers of K9 detection dogs.

Another bill would require controlled substance prescribers to receive education regarding safe opioid prescribing. Most experts would agree that the current opioid epidemic was started from the over-prescription of addictive pain medication. This bill would amend the education law by requiring the state to create a curriculum to be offered in colleges or by providers approved by licensing boards by August 1, 2019 to include information on pain management, alternatives to opioid pain medications, identification of patients who are at risk for addiction, and training on managing substance use disorders as chronic diseases.

Senate Republicans also left some relevant bills pending. Those would limit the initial prescription of a controlled substance prescribed for acute pain from seven to three days, and require practitioners to obtain written parental consent before prescribing opioids to minors.

Finally, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Bethlehem) in January 2017, would increase the penalty for the sale of an opioid which leads to someone’s death to manslaughter in the first degree. The felony Class B carries a sentence of up to 25 years. Currently, the penalty for selling drugs varies from a Class A to a Class D felony sale, depending on the weight. There’s no additional penalty if the drug causes a death.

“While I strongly support an increase in criminal penalties on drug dealers who cause deaths by peddling their poisons in our communities, I think passage of this bill (manslaughter charge) is highly unlikely in a Senate and Assembly controlled by New York City-based Democrats,” says Boyle.