Eight years ago Teri Kroll lost her son to an heroin addiction.
Kroll has spent the intervening years working for reform as a board member of Families in Support of Treatment.
“At the time, you couldn’t find help, you didn’t know where to turn and nobody talked about addiction as a disease in public,” she said. “Eight years later, there’s been a big change.”
Kroll was among those gathered on the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative Building Thursday when Josh Lafazan (D-Syosset) announced his proposals to combat opioid addiction in Nassau County.
“It is time that Nassau County became the battleground in the fight against addiction,” Lafazan said.
The freshman legislator said there was bipartisan support for holding hearings throughout the county to solicit information from clinicians, law enforcement and residents battling addiction.
He said he hoped to have a comprehensive legislative action plan ready by the summer.
“When it comes to addiction, we need to fully re-imagine our system of treatment, with end-to-end care,” he said. “This entire system needs to be completely overhauled.”
Lafazan also offered some concrete ideas. One was to open a 24-hour hotline dedicated specifically to substance use disorders— something he said the county could accomplish quickly.
He said the county should have a single, 24-hour access center where individuals can receive immediate screening, intervention, and referral to treatment.
He noted that a similar center had been a success on Staten Island and that neighboring Suffolk County was in the process of constructing one. He also wanted the county to have its own recovery center.
To prevent young people from getting involved with opioids, Lafazan proposed substance-free dorms as an option for students at all Nassau colleges. And to help those who might overdose, he recommended that all county employees — not just police officers — be trained to administer naloxone to save lives.
“These are pragmatic, bipartisan solutions, many which already have proven efficacy in other municipalities,” he said.
Standing behind him were over a dozen of millennials — a group to which Lafazan belongs — who were involved in the fight against opioid abuse or knew someone who was suffering. In addition to Kroll, there were several others who spoke briefly at the press conference: Dr. Jeffery Reynolds, CEO of Family and Children’s Association; Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder; Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; and legislators Ellen Birnbaum, Debra Mulé and Delia DeRiggi-Whitton.
“In times of great crisis comes great opportunity,” Chassman said.
And the opportunity to truly take on the opioid crisis may have finally arrived for the Nassau County Legislature. DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said she proposed legislation last year that would have put posters in each pharmacy that said: “opiates can lead to addiction.”
The Republican-led Legislature never called for the bill to be voted on.
But DeRiggi-Whitton now feels that things are different, that officials would no longer try to hide that there was a problem, she said.
“I think [County Executive] Laura [Curran] is more open to these types of situations… everything I know about Laura is that she cares about the young people in this county,” she said. ” And [Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello] mentioned in his inauguration speech that drugs and opioid addiction were one of his four major concerns.”
As a mother, she said, she was especially concerned about how addiction seemed to prey upon young people.
“My daughter broke her foot and [the pharmacy] gave us a huge bottle of painkillers,” she said. “We left it in her room and I didn’t think twice about it… that could make the difference. I was lucky. She didn’t feel like she needed to have them while other parents have had to deal with that.”