Program is part of prosecutor’s three-pronged strategy against heroin crisis that includes enforcement, education & treatment
FREEPORT, N.Y. – Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced her office’s commitment of criminal asset forfeiture funding to close a deadly treatment gap for heroin addicts, as part of her three-pronged strategy against the local effects of a public health crisis that’s affecting every part of the country including Long Island.
“Heroin has stolen lives and infiltrated every corner of the United States and unfortunately Nassau County is no exception,” Acting DA Singas said in Freeport today outside Maryhaven’s New Hope Crisis Center, a member of Catholic Health Services of Long Island. “I am fighting the war on heroin with every weapon in our arsenal including crucial education programs, strengthened laws and enforcement against dealers and today, announcing the end to limitations on immediate, free admission to an addiction residential crisis center. My experience in law enforcement while the crack epidemic was winding down and the expertise of the treatment community confirm that when a person is in crisis, it is essential to have an immediately available safe and supportive place to go through withdrawal and get assistance into treatment. New Hope is that place and this funding will ensure that no one in Nassau County will be discharged from an ER without having a place to go and get immediate help.”
Right now, heroin users in New York State who overdose are revived and released back into the community in a matter of hours with recommendations to obtain treatment since heroin and opiate withdrawal is not considered medically “life-threatening.” Processing the paperwork and getting into appropriate treatment can then take weeks. This “treatment gap” leaves many patients on their own during the most violent, painful and difficult throes of withdrawal, often leading to repeat use that can continue uninterrupted until death. This cycle can also lead to the crimes often associated with heroin abuse, like robbery and burglary.
Acting DA Singas’ new initiative closes the treatment gap in Nassau County by providing the funding that will allow the New Hope treatment facility in Freeport – the only medically monitored drug crisis center in Nassau County – to meet overdose patients in emergency rooms or other agencies at any time of the day or night and transport them to New Hope to be stabilized through their withdrawal and receive counseling until long-term treatment can begin. There is no cost to the patient.
New Hope, which has offered crisis residential services for men and women who are challenged with addiction for the past 30 years, and was recently rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy, is certified and funded by the New York State Office for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (NYS OASAS). The program offers a safe, sober, and supportive environment where a person begins the road to recovery.
Currently, New Hope’s staffing levels do not allow the facility to admit patients during the overnight periods from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends.
Acting DA Singas’ commitment of approximately $585,000 in criminal asset forfeiture funds – not a single dollar will come from taxpayer revenue – will expand New Hope’s intake ability to 24 hours per day and seven days per week for Nassau residents, making New Hope one of the first such facilities with 24/7 intake coverage in New York State. Intake will include New Hope transport vans that will travel to any hospital emergency room or other agency in Nassau County to pick up anyone in need of services. The DA funding will also allow New Hope to hire medical and psychiatric staff who will be able to provide medications to those who need them, while other staff assist patients with the cumbersome process of obtaining the next phase of treatment through private insurance or Medicaid.
The DA funding will assist this treatment provider in beginning 24/7 operations now, and is expected to be sustained in the long term by reforms made as part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign initiative.
“This initiative will close a dangerous treatment gap and help make Nassau County a leader in New York State when it comes to providing heroin and opioid addicts seamless help from the ER, to treatment during withdrawal, to long-term recovery,” Acting DA Singas said. “The families of overdose victims and treatment experts have told me that this is critical to addressing the local effects of the nationwide heroin crisis; I hope this initiative gives every family in Nassau County some peace of mind to know there is a free, safe place for their loved ones to go and get help.”
Lewis Grossman, President and CEO of Maryhaven Center of Hope, which operates New Hope, said, “We are appreciative of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office for their trust in Maryhaven to create expanded opportunities to better serve this population. This grant will afford Maryhaven the ability to enrich its clinical and supportive staff to enable New Hope to serve those in need.”
Other experts and advocates joining Acting DA Singas in today’s announcement in front of New Hope were Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services Executive Director Sal LaFemina; Family & Children’s Association Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds; Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Director of Development Cynthia Doerler; Families in Support of Treatment Executive Director Anthony Rizzuto; and Linda Ventura, mother of fatal heroin overdose victim Thomas Ventura.
Today’s announcement concerns one part of Acting DA Singas’ three-pronged approach to battling the heroin crisis: expanded education in schools, effective treatment for addicts, and aggressive enforcement against dealers. Her office has also authored a package of five statewide bills that crack down on heroin dealers, including a new “death by dealer” homicide statute and the reform of narcotics statutes to prevent heroin dealers from receiving non-prison “diversion” sentences meant for addicts. Acting DA Singas, who is co-chair of the Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force and whose office is part of the DEA’s New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, is also continuing to sponsor the “Not My Child” series of anti-heroin presentations in local schools started by former DA Kathleen Rice and already given to tens of thousands of students in Nassau County.
Sal LaFemina, Executive Director of Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services, said: “NAFAS is addressing the severe consequences of heroin use in the lives of patients and families through our network of services. However the problem is dire and resources are limited. We support the efforts of the DA to increase much needed crisis services and to increase awareness among youth.”
Dr. Jeffrey L. Reynolds, President of Family and Children’s Association, said: “Effectively combating the heroin epidemic means addressing both the supply and demand side of the equation. Using forfeiture funds to expand addiction treatment opportunities is smart public policy and will go a long way towards reducing the demand for heroin, prescription painkillers and other drugs in Nassau County. This is a concrete step forward that will give hundreds of Long Islanders a shot at recovery and in turn, make Nassau County a safer, healthier place.”
Steve Chassman, Executive Director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said: “As individuals and families across Long Island continue to struggle with issues related to substance use disorders, we commend to the Nassau County District Attorneys’ office for their continued response to this crisis. The utilization of these forfeiture funds will greatly assist individuals and families in accessing vital support and treatment services. The use of these funds is a concrete investment in the health and future of those Long Islanders who struggle, with the recognition that treatment and recovery from substance use disorders is a realistic and attainable goal.”
Anthony Rizzuto, Executive Director of Families in Support of Treatment, said: “Being able to connect individuals suffering with an addiction to opiates to the help they need has long been a challenge. Treatment on demand is necessary and will help us save lives. I commend DA Singas on her steps towards making that a reality.” Linda Ventura, mother of fatal overdose victim Thomas Ventura and a director of FIST, said: “New Hope will undoubtedly save lives and offer hope to the families struggling with this disease.”