With drug arrests and opioid overdoses on the rise in Nassau County, local community and elected leaders from Wantagh, Seaford, Levittown and bordering areas are taking action.
To help curb local drug abuse, the YES Community Counseling Center — an outreach center that helps struggling addicts and their family members — and outside organizations formed the Levittown Community Action Coalition to target drug hot spots and gauge community concerns. Wantagh and Seaford leaders and residents are involved in the group.
Community members also took part in Drug Take-Back Day, sponsored by State Sen. John Brooks, on Aug. 19. Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford who also serves Wantagh, encouraged residents to dispose of unused and expired medications through the program so the drugs do not wind up on the street.
According to counselors from YES CCC, which has facilities in Levittown and Massapequa, there has been a sharp increase in drug and alcohol abuse over the past decade. Jamie Bogenshutz, executive director of YES CCC, said that the types of drugs available for people to abuse, coupled with increased stress because of the challenges of daily living, have contributed to the increase.
“We are seeing more and more people die from the effects of addiction and overdose, more so now than ever before, in spite of efforts to educate and prevent,” Bogenshutz said. “This is an epidemic that has widespread implications for future generations.”
To help curb local drug use, YES CCC and outside organizations are teaming up to address the crisis. The Levittown Community Action Coalition’s members represent several local organizations, including the Wantagh-Levittown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Nassau County Police Department, the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, the Nassau County Department of Human Services, the Levittown and Island Trees school districts, and local houses of worship.
“Involvement in the coalition, like the LCAC, is a great place for those who are invested in making a difference,” Bogenshutz said. “Energy can be used to help prevent and educate the community members so that we can reduce the incidence of death related to drug and alcohol use and abuse. The more we all work together to combat this epidemic, the more likely we are to have some positive outcomes down the road.”
The coalition is working on a mapping project and composing a survey to identify parks, sumps, parking lots and other places of concern where potential drug use could be taking place. The group is also focusing on outreach to help foster grants to support different initiatives.
Frank McKenna, director of the Seaford Public Library and a Levittown native, attended the LCAC’s Aug. 9 meeting. He said he is teaming up with officials from the Levittown and Wantagh libraries to combat the issue.
“As a parent of 5-year-old twin girls starting kindergarten this year, and as a concerned citizen, I’m very aware of the devastation opioid addiction has taken on many people I know personally and community-wide,” McKenna said. “We need to come together to fight this scourge.”
Bogenshutz encouraged Wantagh and Seaford residents to attend LCAC’s next meeting in September. She said people could also help on different levels.
“Prevention begins when children enter our world, not just when they become teens,” Bogenshutz explained. “The more we can understand about brain development and how impressionable our youth are, the more likely we may be to prevent young children and people from making choices that have long-lasting implications on their life.”
Town of Hempstead Councilman Dennis Dunne, who represents north Wantagh and Seaford, has joined the cause.
“Medicine prescribed to treat an illness has the potential to do great good,” Dunne said. “But medication misused for recreation or so-called ‘self-medication,’ or as part of an addiction, has the potential to do great harm.”
Brooks said that he would continue to work alongside LCAC, anti-drug coalitions in Massapequa and other local groups to tackle opioid abuse. “We need to acknowledge that having a problem with addiction is an illness,” he said. “And as with most illnesses, there is treatment.”
In Seaford, McKenna said that library leaders would work with elected officials and the local police and fire officials to address concerns. He said he plans to meet with the library board of trustees, staff and Seaford residents to organize programs that provide information about the dangers of opioid addiction, in addition to alerting the community about recovery services.
“Residents can continue to keep themselves informed and updated, get involved with local community service organizations, attend programs and presentations, and keep ever vigilant for signs of opioid-related activities or ‘hot spots’ in their communities,” McKenna said. “We are in this together for the long haul.”