With our children back in classrooms and the leaves beginning their autumnal change, the nation is highlighting another vital milestone as we observe September as National Recovery Month.
Since being established in 1989 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Recovery Month has become a powerful vehicle for promoting and supporting new treatment and prevention practices, honoring the hard work and courage of Americans in recovery, and recognizing the countless service providers, communities and organizations that make recovery available for all who seek it.
In Nassau County and across the country, the perils posed by the disease of addiction are more severe than I can ever remember. As if the fentanyl crisis wasn’t frightening enough, drugs like “tranq” are adding a new kind of danger. Formally known as xylazine, tranq is an animal tranquilizer that is increasingly being used as an additive to heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. It’s beginning to appear in drug tests at Nassau County treatment centers, and its effects on users are truly horrific. Worse yet, we’re learning of an emerging group of synthetic opioids that may be even more powerful than fentanyl.
In two major recent drug busts in our region, 30 people were arrested in Suffolk County, and illegal guns, two kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram of fentanyl — enough to kill 380,000 people — were seized. A day later, a dozen more people were indicted for their alleged involvement in a South Shore Nassau drug ring. There, three kilograms of cocaine and 430 grams of fentanyl were recovered and confiscated.
All of these disturbing new developments illustrate how high the stakes are in the ever-evolving battle against addiction. Now more than ever, if there is a potentially life-saving resource that we can add to our toolkit, we must avail ourselves of it. That’s why my office was one of the first in Nassau County to begin hosting Narcan training sessions years ago, and I have continued to work closely with stakeholders since then to expand on these tools.
During this legislative term, my minority caucus colleagues and I have co-sponsored legislation that would require the county to add fentanyl-detecting test strips to all Narcan kits that we distribute. A second proposed law would facilitate the distribution of kits that safely destroy and dissolve unwanted prescription drugs at home. While I’m disappointed that the legislative majority hasn’t even held a public hearing on these proposals, I won’t give up in the fight to enact common-sense, low-cost and, most important, potentially life-saving policies.
I also remain concerned about the manner in which the county is distributing tens of millions of dollars that we have received from various settlements with opioid manufacturers, distributors and sellers. While significant sums have been earmarked for an array of worthwhile entities that are serving on the front lines of the addiction crisis, we have received little, if any, information from the administration on whether the county has distributed the funds. In fact, our most recent available budget data shows that only $2.24 million of the $30 million appropriated for the last two years — and nearly $83 million overall — has been delivered. With so many threats on the horizon, it is essential for these resources to be delivered in as expeditious and transparent a manner as possible.
As new proceeds arrive from future settlements, I believe that Nassau County would be well served by using those funds to expand Nassau University Medical Center’s detox and in-patient rehab facilities to ensure that no one is ever prevented from getting treatment for addiction because there isn’t a bed available. Our unique relationship with NUMC offers the county a golden opportunity to establish ourselves as a regional leader in the delivery of recovery opportunities, and it is one we should take full advantage of.
Never forget that people who are in recovery very seldom do it alone — and if you are struggling as you read this, I want you to know that there are people out there who care about you and are eager to extend a helping hand. If you need assistance with substance abuse or a mental health crisis, I encourage you to call the Nassau County Crisis Helpline, at (516) 227-8255, and take that first step toward reclaiming your life.
Delia DeRiggi-Whitton represents Nassau County’s 11th Legislative District.