By Jano Tantongco
State and county officials are calling for empty beds at psychiatric centers -- including Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills -- to be used for inpatient rehabilitation for heroin addicts.
The call to Gov. Andrew Cuomo comes in the wake of a state report released earlier this month that cites Suffolk as the state's leading county in heroin-related deaths with 337 from 2009-2013. The next county on the list is the Bronx, which had 216 such deaths during the same time span.
“That's not a proud distinction that any county should have,” said Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) in an April 21 interview.
Raia is one of several officials calling for psychiatric centers to be opened up for drug rehab. However, during the interview, he said that he is no longer considering Sagamore for the proposal since the state-run facility treats children ages 6-17.
It’s “probably not the best place to be mixing different types of young people,” Raia said. Instead, he added, Raia is now focusing his proposal on Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, noting that the facility's size would more easily allow patients to be appropriately separated.
Raia also estimated both facilities are only utilizing a quarter of their available beds.
“Outpatient services work for some people,” Raia said. “For those that it doesn't, you want to make sure there are enough beds locally.”
Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) is another advocate for the proposal. In an interview Monday, he said he’s still considering Sagamore’s spare beds.
On the whole, Spencer said inpatient services are just one part of the equation in dealing with the county’s heroin epidemic.
“In particular, as a Suffolk County legislator, to see us leading in heroin deaths by a substantial margin, to me, is a call for action.”
Steve Chassman, executive director for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said inpatient options for addicts is important. He added that in his 23 years of work, he has never seen such a shortage of inpatient facilities for addicts.
“They’re ready to get help, and there’s nowhere to get help,” he said. “With addiction, that window of opportunity closes very fast. When someone is addicted to heroin... putting them in outpatient is like putting a Band-Aid on a severe laceration.”
Chassman added that insurance companies typically do not cover inpatient services until an addict has failed in an outpatient process.
“You have a treatment plan being driven by insurance companies. You find families making very difficult choices because their child needs their third inpatient stay,” he said. “Meanwhile, they pay premiums through the roof.”
State officials did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal before deadline Monday.