Plans for Wellbridge, the $90 million, 80-bed residential substance abuse treatment and research center slated for 40 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, officially started about seven years ago, according to Andrew Drazen, the CEO and co-founder of Wellbridge.
But it really started more like 50 years ago, he said.
“A beautiful divorced mother of three young sons lived in Rockville Centre,” he said at a well-attended ground breaking ceremony for the project Thursday. “Over a short period of time, that mother became immersed in depression and masked her pain with vodka.
“Doctors that she visited at the time, in the 1960s, prescribed an antidote for that of amphetamines and barbiturates.
“After several years of this therapy of highs and lows, mixed with much alcohol, the lady died by overdose at the age of 35, leaving behind three sons ages six, nine, and 11.”
Mr. Drazen said he was the 11 year old son, and that was his mother he was talking about.
“I am a first-hand witness of the destruction and devastation of addiction and substance abuse disorder,” he said.
Wellbridge is joint venture of Engel Burman Group and Northwell Health and plans to have both a residential treatment component as well as a research center on opioid and substance abuse disorders.
“We’ve never been involved in a project that’s more compelling and more vital,” said Jan Burman, the president of Engel Burman, as well as the first buyer of land at EPCAL from Riverhead Town.
The facility is considered to be one of the first of its kind, where patients can also be part of research programs.
“This is a unique program that will provide the full continuum of addiction treatment and research,” said Michael Dowling, the president and CEO of Northwell Health, the parent of Peconic Bay Medical Center.
He said 600 people died of Opioid overdoses on Long Island last year “and that’s probably an undercount.”
“By integrating research along with clinical care, we will create a learning laboratory that will accelerate the discovery of new and effective treatments for addictions,” said Dr. Jon Morgenstern, the assistant vice president of substance abuse services at Northwell Health.
While he said a “learning laboratory” is new for addiction services, it is not something that’s new overall.
“There are learning laboratories in every medical center for the treatment of heart disease and cancer,” he said “And those learning laboratories help to revolutionize the treatment.”
For instance, the cancer treatment provided today is radically difference from what was there 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, he said.
“This facility will serve not only Riverhead but the entire region,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “As both a treatment center, and as a research facility the lessons learned here will provide better outcomes to patients here in Riverhead, and across Long Island.”
One man’s story
Douglas Albert, 60, a steam fitter from Lindenhurst, described his experience with addition and, in particular, pain killers, at Thursday’s groundbreaking.
He said from 2011 to 2016, he had nine trips to rehab, was arrested five times, was sentenced to jail three years, and spent three stints in a psychiatric ward.
Growing up in a family plagued by addiction, where his parents divorced when he was 14, Mr. Albert said he got drunk for the first time at age 13, and lost his fears and anxieties after that.
“I felt like Superman,” he said.
“Years later, I found out that everything alcohol gave me, it was going to take away eventually.”
After years of drug and alcohol abuse, he enrolled in a 12-step program and started to improve.
But by 1998, he was almost killed in a construction accident.
“I was put on heavy doses of pain medication for a short time,” he said.
He was drug-free for years, and then got hurt again in 2007 and was again prescribed pain killers.
Only this time, the doctors allowed him to take pain medication for as long as he wanted, unlike in 1998, when his doctors only prescribed them for a short time.
“My 30 day prescription lasted five days,” he said. And after that, he bought them on the street.
“All my money went to that addiction,” he said.
All told, Mr. Albert said he has had other relapses, but he feels its important to be in a 12-step program or some type of counseling.
“Although today I can stand here and say that I am recovered, I am not cured. The disease of addiction would always be there,” he said.