By Eden Laikin
Nearly 700 people gathered at a summit in Baldwin last week to hear how Nassau County is addressing the deadly Heroin and pain-pill epidemic – learning about new initiatives in treatment and recovery; becoming trained overdose responders; and joining a public dialogue about addiction by ending the stigma and shame surrounding it.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano also announced at the summit that Nassau Police would join with Suffolk police in a joint Heroin task force to investigate and apprehend drug dealers. “Awareness, education and prevention are equally as important in combating opiate abuse, as enforcement,” he said. “That’s why we continue to attack the problem from several fronts.”
The County Executive’s wife, Linda, opened the 2016 Heroin Educational Summit, held on Feb 18, at the Coral House. She spoke about previously being a “drug snob,” until learning that addiction is a disease and that its sufferers have no more choice of being “sick,” then those with any other disease.
The first speaker told a story of missing the signs of Heroin abuse in their son, until he died from an overdose. The young man had been a Lt in his local fire department, alongside his father, at the time of his death.
Next up was a mother who spoke about the nightmare she went through, living with two Heroin-addicted children and full of shame and guilt that often go with it. She was followed by one of her sons now in recovery with two years clean.
The rest of the summit was divided into sessions, each focusing on a different theme. The first was on Nassau’s Behavioral Health Awareness campaign, which strives to educate people on the connection between mental and physical health, and substance abuse. This was followed by the announcement of the Heroin Task Force, and then a candle-lighting ceremony to remember those lost to addiction.
The second session came from ‘the Police Perspective,” with Nassau’s acting Police commissioner – and the President of the PBA – touting officers not only for a record number of drug arrests, but also with saving lives by administering Narcan. All officers on patrol have been trained in and equipped with Narcan – the opiate overdose antidote. In addition to training county police officers, nassau’s auxillary police force and other first responders – county officials have trained about 6,000 non-medically trained citizens since becoming state certified. A Narcan training was held near the end of the summit.
County Executive Mangano said records show at least 25 people – the only ones we know of – are alive today because of the Narcan, and training, we gave them.
About half dozen young residents who had been addicted to Heroin, despite trying all the existing modes of treatment, spoke to the crowd about their lives being saved by Nassau’s new recovery program. They each said that what finally worked for them, was Vivitrol – an extended release, monthly injection of a non-narcotic, non-addictive medication that eliminates users’ cravings for opiates and blocks the drugs’ euphoric effects. Along with counseling or other treatment, Vivitrol has been shown great success around the country. Nassau launched its vivitrol program – a Shot at Life – last February, and supporters say it may just be the best lifesaving tool we have today in battling the epidemic.
It’s suggested that a person be opiate-free for 7-10 days before receiving their first Vivitrol shot, but there are relatively few “detoxification” beds in nassau. So Nassau officials recently launched two new programs in the County – where users can detox and “get clean,” on an “outpatient basis” to gain the Opiate-free time, needed to start Vivitrol.
Vivitrol is covered by most private insurance, and Medicaid. County officials run a weekly support group where people at varying stages of vivitrol treatment gather to help those who may be contemplating the treatment.
At least 60 different treatment providers were also represented at the summit, and were letting attendees know how and where to access treatment for their friend or family member.
“If nothing else, we’ve started the conversation – publicly and openly – with 670 people who will each go home and tell friends and family members about it,” Mangano said. “It’s a conversation about it being ok to ask for help. We need to keep the conversation going.”
What’s more, countless lives may be saved by one or more of the 132 summit attendees that stayed for our free narcan training.