County opioid deaths drop since 2016 peak

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The Nassau County Opioid Crisis Action Plan Task Force released a case study on Nassau County last week. (Photo courtesy of Nassau County)

The number of opioid-related deaths in Nassau County decreased to 149 last year, nearly 25 percent below the peak in 2016, according to a report by the county’s opioid task force. 

The report released Thursday by the group, a consortium of county officials, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement officials, described how the nationwide opioid crisis has affected Nassau County and gave a “roadmap to recovery.” 

Nassau’s opioid-related death count is dropping faster than any other large county in the state, according to recent statistics from the state Department of Health. 

The 149 deaths in 2018 were down from 195 in 2016, and the number was the lowest on record since 2013.

Nassau’s typical drug users were identified in the report as white males between the ages of 21 and 30. Some 60 percent of overdoses responded to by the Nassau County Police Department are male drug users. 

Eighty-five percent of overdoses the Police Department responds to are white drug users. Black drug users account for 7 percent of overdoses and Hispanic drug users account for 4 percent. 

Overdoses were overwhelmingly more frequent on Nassau’s South Shore than on the North Shore in 2018 with overdoses mainly concentrated in the Town of Hempstead’s western border with Queens and the Town of Oyster Bay’s eastern border with Suffolk County. 

The Town of North Hempstead saw the lowest number of total overdoses throughout the county, a map in the report indicated, and a large area of Old Westbury through Upper Brookville saw no overdoses at all. 

Nassau County spends $4,800 for each fatal overdose that police respond to and $3,520 for each nonfatal overdose. The county spent approximately $2.51 million on overdose response in 2018, an almost 24 percent drop in spending since 2016, when the county spent $3.3 million. 

The report’s action plan suggests the county focus on preventative measures. Reducing the impact of early-childhood trauma, which if left untreated is seen as a gateway to substance abuse, is identified in the report as a major factor.  

“Researchers have established a clear link between untreated trauma and substance abuse, but all too often, we react to the devastating symptoms of that trauma,” said Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), co-chair of the task force.  

“We have created a powerful blueprint for a holistic, proactive strategy that identifies and addresses the root causes of substance abuse by employing a trauma-informed therapeutic approach, and I am hopeful that our findings and recommendations will be used to guide the next phase of our community’s response to the opioid crisis.”

Recommended preventative measure the county can take include funding for education programs on the recognition of trauma, funding for comprehensive prevention measures, opening additional trauma-informed agencies, ensuring service providers see the connection between trauma and addiction by mandating training, developing prevention messaging through social media and establishing resources for academia related to evidence-based prevention and tools to train faculty. 

The report also said that the state’s “impending bail and discovery laws have a potential negative impact on treatment efforts.” 

Cashless bail, a measure included in the state budget passed in April, could significantly impede the district attorney’s ability to intercede and divert defendants away from the criminal justice system into treatment, the report said 

The task force recommendations for the county in regard to enforcement measures include conducting education and prevention programs in Nassau and Suffolk county jails; compassion fatigue training for EMT and first responders; setting protocols for engagement, transport and transfer for overdose victims before and after hospitalization, the creation of a residential crisis stabilization facility for youth; and instituting the Hope Initiative, a program in which drug users can walk into any precinct and ask for help in getting treatment. 

The report found that while the county had ramped up its substance use services, there is  room for improvement. Potential improvements include the expansion of the Community Services Advisory Board Mental Health and Substance Use subcommittees, providing incentives to medical students, residents and practitioners to enter addiction medicine, exploring funding opportunities for adolescent treatment and recovery programs, and increasing funding for work forces to address attrition and retention, among others. 

The Nassau County Opioid Crisis Action Plan Task Force is co-chaired by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Bynoe. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran formed the committee in May. 

“The battle is far from over, but Nassau County is leading the way in the fight against the opioid crisis,” Curran said. “Our comprehensive strategy focused on treatment, enforcement, and education is working – but we’re not slowing down now.”

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