Suffolk lawmakers outline plan to treat heroin addicts

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at a press conference this week with elected officials. (Credit: Courtesy)
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at a Monday press conference with elected officials. (Credit: Courtesy)

In the ongoing effort to combat the growing use of heroin across Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Monday announced a new strategy aimed at making a special drug more accessible to addicts at treatment centers and county facilities — though experts warn it’s no panacea.

The initiative mainly includes expanding the availability of the FDA-approved drug naltrexone, which “in laymen’s terms, prevents a person from getting high,” assistant deputy county executive for public safety Timothy Sini said during a press conference in Hauppauge.

Naltrexone comes in the form of a shot that, administered once a month, helps block a drug user’s cravings, Mr. Sini said.

The plan is to make the drug — commonly known by the brand name Vivitrol — available to inmates, people enrolled in drug court programs and others, like those who might have been saved from an overdose.

Over 60 percent of people in the county jail have some type of substance abuse problem, county Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said during the press conference.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the heroin and opiate epidemic that has affected our nation and our county,” Mr. Bellone said. “We need to come up with long-term and sustainable solutions.”

Riverhead Town Justice Allen Smith said the East End court’s knowledge of naltrexone and its capabilities is nothing new.

“We have been trained in it and in the appropriate cases, we have mandated it,” Judge Smith said.

While sitting in on East End Regional Intervention Court — known as drug court — Tuesday afternoon, Justice Smith listened to participants, many of whom are working on overcoming addiction to heroin.

“I didn’t want to admit when I wanted help,” said one participant, who on Tuesday celebrated a year and one day of being drug-free.

Charlene Halsey Mascia, substance abuse counselor and coordinator of the program with Riverhead and Southampton courts, said about 70 percent of current participants in the 11-year-old program are working to overcome addiction to heroin.

“They are constantly coming in,” Ms. Halsey Mascia said. “Drugs like naltrexone alone are not going to do the job.”

Besides a physical presence in drug court twice a week, participants attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and see therapists or psychologists, through which some receive medications such as naltrexone. Some participants are also required to wear GPS tracking devices, she said.

Dr. Constantine Ioannou, director of adult inpatient psychiatry at Stony Brook University Hospital, called naltrexone a valuable tool, cautioning that “in and of itself, it is not going to do much.”

“Addiction is a complex disease,” he said. “To give a shot that is going to decrease the urge is good, but they can still get high using other drugs like cocaine.”

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