By Jerry Sharp, Ph.D.
Nassau County - under County Executive Ed Mangano - is offering cutting-edge type initiatives to battle the substance abuse scourge, and try to stem the flow of overdose deaths - but bias in the mainstream media has caused these facts to practically be ignored.
We have not been given any substantial information about the nearly 1,000 mothers, fathers, siblings and other “ordinary citizens” who have been trained by Mangano’s staff on how to save a life, and how they have been equipped with the life-saving instrument to do that.
Do residents even know that Mangano made Nassau the first County in New York to become state-certified, and operate a program that trains people to administer a life-saving medication called Narcan; this medication saves the life of someone overdosing?
Are people aware that Nassau has a former Narcotics detective assigned to bring age-appropriate drug education and prevention programs into all the County’s elementary, middle and high schools? Or, that under the current administration, many drug addicts are being rehabilitated instead of jailed(which is tremendously less expensive for tax payers), and are able to go on and become responsible and productive members of society?
Know it or not, Nassau has been working in a multitude of ways to cut through the denial and shame of family members, and bring critical awareness to these individuals about substance abuse, how to spot it and where to find help for the addict, as well as for the entire familial system.
Nassau is a model for other counties and states throughout the country for its drug abuse prevention efforts. Nevertheless, most do not even know of this, except for those who have been informed from someone who attended one of the panel discussions and/ or training sessions Mangano has facilitated across the County for more than a year now.
Could these efforts have any thing to do with the 19% decrease in fatal opioid overdoses in Nassau County from 2011 to 2012? No one can be certain, however, it is definite that the numbers are moving in the right direction.
When former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi closed down Nassau’s only 2 county-run drug treatment facilities in 2003, most were understandably concerned, and angry - he eliminated 144 treatment slots. As a result, he eliminated opportunities that would have given hundreds of residents addicted to drugs a chance to get clean, and be equipped with ways to maintain recovery. How very unfortunate that Suozzi abolished these programs, which had helped 1000s of addicts, as well as their family members in the 3 decades of their existence.
Additionally, in his second term in office, Suozzi ended the county’s Students Against Drunk Driving (S.A.D.D.) campaign; hundreds of young people's lives might have taken a different path. Nobody knows how many lives might have been saved, or how many young people might have gone in a different direction or stayed on the path to recovery. Nonetheless, what we do know is that there have been innocent citizens killed during robberies, and more than 925 residents have died of heroin or prescription painkiller overdoses in Nassau County,since those drug centers were closed.
The 2 New York State licensed, highly successful, nationally respected and well established facilities (both lead by Mr. Kirby Thompson, LCSW, an exceptional Director of Services), provided quality treatment at a relatively low cost. One - Plainview Rehabilitation Center - was self-sustaining by way of Medicaid revenue. The other - Topic House (also in Plainview) - was largely state-funded.
Suozzi stated at the time that the closures were done to save money, yet as the County Executive, he must have known that millions of dollars in Medicaid revenue and state funding were forever lost by closing the facilities. He also must have been aware that the County was held to retain every civil service employee working at both facilities due to civil service law.
Perhaps his fear of the negative political and community consequences that would most likely be attributed to his decision, lead him to use what many describe as a machine of propaganda, which spun highly misleading and severely fraudulent information regarding the Plainview closings; this machine literally lied to the public regarding the necessity for and the success of these 2 facilities. Astonishingly, when people actually did complain, he dismissed their concerns as if they were irrelevant,and reported that he would open 2 new rehabs in the following year (something that never happened).
Fortunately, 2 years later the public benefit corporation (a Non-County agency) that owns NUMC in East Meadow, did open a wing for addicts. This was something with which Tom Suozzi had absolutely no involvement, but he misleadingly attempted to take at least partial credit for. Although this wing is obviously crucial, it only is capable of treating a mere 20 patients at one time-- a miniscule amount compared to the 56 inpatient and 88 residential beds that existed in Plainview prior to 2003.It is simply not large enough to adequately provide for the addicted population. Furthermore, there is a long waiting list to gain admission , and there is a significant number of addicts who do not make it back when a bed does become available.
I hope that people realize the extreme importance of Ed Mangano, with respect to his acts of stepping in, and creating outside-the-box solutions to begin addressing the issue of substance abuse, reducing the number of non-recovering addicts, and consequently, reducing the crimes that they often commit against others.
As a concerned citizen, I – and many others - thank him.
Dr. Sharp is a Nassau County resident; he counsels persons, most of whom who have been diagnosed with drug dependency.