Addiction to heroin and prescription drugs has become a national epidemic, and New York has not been immune. In recent years, violent and grotesque details involving heroin addicts have been reported in Long Island and surrounding areas. New York is doubling its efforts to combat the growing problem of addiction.
“Every level of government must increase efforts to address the heroin crisis in New York,” New York congresswoman Nita M. Lowey: “Too many people in the Lower Hudson Valley are struggling with heroin and other opioid addictions. We must bolster efforts to combat this heroin epidemic.”
In response to a 2014 Heroin Task Force report, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced an $8 million dollar initiative to combat heroin addiction in the state.1 The question remains, will it be enough to make a difference?
The Challenge Facing Long Island
The sheer amount of heroin taken in recent drug busts, the number of those dying due to heroin overdose or heroin-related accidents, and the rate at which the wealthy residents of Long Island continue to fund local drug dealers is horrifying to New York officials. With approximately five New Yorkers dying daily from drug overdose and about two dying from heroin overdose each week in Long Island alone, the resurgence of heroin use is a frightening proposition.2
According to Center for Disease Control, factors in the rising rate of heroin use include its increased availability and relatively low price compared to prescription opioids. Approximately 75,000 New Yorkers have used heroin in the two-year period of 2013 through 2014.
It is unclear why New York treatment admission rates for heroin and prescription opioid abuse are so much higher than national averages. Relevant factors may include New York’s higher-than-average rates of insurance coverage and the state’s efforts to provide access to drug addiction treatment.3
Combating This Crisis
The first efforts to stem the tide of heroin addiction in New York started with Nassau lawmakers, proposing tougher sentencing for drug dealers connected to fatal overdoses. Then, Nassau County officials started a new awareness and educational campaign aimed at teaching young people about heroin, addiction, and the inherent dangers involved in experimenting with this highly addictive substance. Officials have expanded narcotic investigations and announced an anti-drug curriculum for the local school systems to further discourage youth from getting involved with heroin.
Despite being on the forefront of nationally-recognized best practices, the epidemic continues to grow in New York. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo convened a team of experienced healthcare providers, policy advocates, educators, parents and New Yorkers in recovery to serve on a Heroin and Opioid Task Force in 2016 to develop a comprehensive plan to bring the crisis under control. In the 2016 fiscal year, New York State allocated over $1.4 billion to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to fight this battle.2
Governor Cuomo has sought to increase access to emergency overdose antidotes and has passed laws to crack down on “doctor shopping” for painkiller prescriptions, often a gateway to heroin use.4
Strategies and Solutions
In addition to prevention measures and judicial punishments to deter those already in the business of selling heroin, Long Island is also looking at ways to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of rehab treatment for those struggling with heroin addiction. Suboxone, approved by the FDA for opiate addiction treatment, is already legal and prescribed in Long Island. Now Suffolk County officials are considering making this prescription a part of adolescent treatment to make the withdrawal symptoms more manageable.
Another goal has been to help parents identify heroin use and abuse among their teens, even when they don’t display the typical symptoms associated with heroin addiction.
Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey says: “We are seeing a lot of straight-A students and athletes that are heroin users. In almost all cases, parents do not suspect their kid is a heroin user because they are getting good grades or they are a successful athlete. By the time parents become aware of the problem it is too late. Their kids are hooked.”
In Massapequa – one of the hardest hit areas in Long Island – a new education program called “Too Good For Drugs” is in the works.2
Working Together to Win
Prevention education, early identification of heroin addiction, and early drug rehab treatment seem to be the best ways to combat the heroin addiction crisis in Long Island and beyond. The hope is that if there isn’t a market for heroin and other dangerous drugs, the dealers on the street will go peddle their wares elsewhere or, better yet, decide that dealing drugs isn’t profitable enough and find a new line of work.
1 “Governor Cuomo Announces $8 Million to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse Among Young Adults Statewide, New York State.” Governor.ny.gov. February 27, 2015.Web. Accessed 5 June 2017.
2 “Combatting the Heroin and Opioid Crisis.” Heroin and Opioid Task Force Report. Governor.ny.gov. 9 June 2016. Web. Accessed 5 June 2017.
3 “Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Addiction in New York State.” New York State Comptroller.June 2016. Web. Accessed 5 June 2017.
4 Bredderman, Will. “Andrew Cuomo Declares Current Heroin Crisis ‘Worse Than’ Crack Epidemic.” Observer. 25 May 2016. Web. Accessed 5 June 2017.