Josh Lafazan, a Democrat from Syosset, held his first news conference on Jan. 11 as Nassau County’s 18th District legislator to announce bipartisan support for hearings to address the opioid crisis.
Lafazan said he had spoken with 1st District Legislator Kevan Abrahams, a Democrat from Freeport, who is the Legislature’s minority leader, and 19th District Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore.
Lafazan presented a five-point plan outlining his proposed legislation and policy, centering on prevention, to aid in the eradication of opioid abuse in Nassau.
Among his proposals are:
- A 24-hour addiction assessment center.
- A 24-hour addiction crisis
- A recovery center to mirror Suffolk County’s THRIVE Center.
- Sober dormitories at all Nassau County colleges.
- Naloxone, or Narcan, training for every Nassau employee. (Narcan is a drug that counteracts an opioid overdose.)
The 24-hour assessment center would provide immediate screening, intervention and referral to treatment for those suffering from addiction.
“We need to fully reimagine our system of treatment,” Lafazan said. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect a person or a family member, in the throes of such a horrible disease, to do extensive research, hop on the phone and search for treatment availability which scarcely exists.”
He acknowledged that a 24-hour crisis hotline already exists in the county, operated by the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore. But 16 percent of the calls received were from individuals suffering from substance abuse, according to its Executive Director Linda Leonard.
“Let’s follow Suffolk County’s lead of having one unified [addiction] hotline . . . that serves as a lifeline for those who are struggling,” Lafazan said. He added that trained substance-abuse counselors would provide callers with both information and advice.
He said he would also like to create a center similar to Suffolk’s THRIVE Center (Transformation, Healing, Recovery, Inspiration, Validation and Empowerment), which provides recovery services for those suffering from addiction so they don’t relapse.
“Long Island has just one recovery center, but as we face a historic opioid crisis, we know we need a dozen such centers on Long Island,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, the CEO of Family’s and Children’s Association, a nonprofit agency that works to protect and strengthen vulnerable children, seniors, families and communities on Long Island.
“Opening a recovery center like THRIVE in Nassau County is the logical next step, and we look forward to working with Josh and other elected officials in Nassau County to make it a reality,” Reynolds said.
Lafazan called for substance-free dorm options at all colleges in the county, adding that such dorms are currently offered at several SUNY schools, including Stony Brook University. Finally, he said that every member of the county workforce would be trained in administering Narcan.
Reynolds pointed out that the number of opioid deaths in Nassau over the last three years does not fully illustrate the damage wrought by this drug.
“Naloxone should never be the best we can do,” he said, calling for greater preventive measures. “This epidemic has turned this community upside down, and there’s a cost if we do nothing, not only in dollars and cents.”
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder addressed the law enforcement and policing component in the opioid crisis. “We need bigger outreach, and action from schools and parents, behind this conversation,” he said. “It’s a move in the right direction.”
“Easy access and treatment on demand is imperative,” said Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a nonprofit that provides referral and intervention services, education and guidance to overcome alcohol and other drug-related problems.
Chassman applauded Lafazan’s effort to turn prevention into policy. “This is a public health crisis, and we are standing in the epicenter,” he said. “I feel the change in leadership will turn the tide. It’s time for action.”
Lindenhurst parent Terri Kroll, who lost her son to a substance-abuse disorder eight years ago, supported the idea of a 24-hour hotline. “To be able to make a call and know someone on the other line is trained to help is huge,” Kroll said. “Young people need this help. They have nowhere else to go.”
Lafazan said that after gathering information from different experts and agencies with his team, he hopes to propose a legislative action plan by the summer.