Suffolk, Nassau Partnering To Combat Island's Heroin Problem

By Jano Tantongco

jtantongco@longislandergroup.com

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano sign a memorandum of agreement to form the Long Island Heroin Task Force, a joint venture between the counties to stem the tide of the heroin epidemic. Photo/Office of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano sign a memorandum of agreement to form the Long Island Heroin Task Force, a joint venture between the counties to stem the tide of the heroin epidemicPhoto/Office of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano

Taylor Sherman, of Northport, said his foray into the world of drugs started in 2005 when he began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. By the next year, he progressed to cocaine, LSD, MDMA and, ultimately, heroin.

“My real downfall was with the opiates,” Sherman, 25, originally from Commack, said. “My whole life prior [to sobriety] felt off… depressed, anxious, angry and unstable. These substances ‘cured’ those ailments. It made me feel okay.”

After six years, during which he received professional rehab treatment, but also tried using anti-opiate Suboxone and opioid methadone to help him wean off of heroin, Sherman said he got sober in 2011, and has been ever since.

But, according to tentative figures released by Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner, Sherman is one of the lucky ones.

In 2015, there were around 103 fatal heroin-related overdoses reported in the county, a 171-percent increase from 2010 when there were 38 such deaths. Thirteen of last year’s deaths occurred within the Town of Huntington, and 64 of those who overdosed were aged 20 to 39.

In order to combat this trend, Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announced last week the formation of the Long Island Heroin Task Force.

The task force will be based out of an undisclosed location in Nassau, and will include four detectives, one supervisor and a federally-funded intel analyst. The goal, Mangano stated, of the task force is to uncover and curtail the source of the flow of heroin into the community.

“The dealers who flood our communities with heroin don’t care about county lines or any lines for that matter,” stated Bellone. “That is why this historic partnership is critical to fight these criminal operations, which cross jurisdictions. At the same time, we also know that law enforcement is just one part of the equation to tackle a public health crisis that is tearing apart communities one family at a time.”

Executive Director for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Steve Chassman said the task force is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t address the root causes of the epidemic.

“It’s always great to see county leadership, but we have to show leadership in the areas where it's really going to make a difference,” Chassman, of Northport, said. “They’re arresting people. I guess that’s good, but the two questions we haven’t answered are: Why are young people looking to anesthetize themselves? How do the sick access treatment?

Chassman sees it as no coincidence that there is a widespread addiction to a substance that acts as a sedative and central nervous system depressant in our “highly competitive and highly plugged in society.”

“We have to ask the existential question: Why are people willing to do all this to keep themselves calm?” he said.

Chassman said more public funds must be allocated toward providing education and long-term care for addicts with detoxification and rehabilitation. He noted that insurance companies often wish to see addicts first enter into short-term outpatient programs, but views this as inadequate.

Sherman agreed, saying that taking dealers off the streets and instituting harsher punishments may help, but he said it merely “attacks a symptom.

“They’re not attacking the problem.”