LI detox center maxed out in occupancy
BY JOIE TYRRELL
9:04 PM EST, November 6, 2008
The detox unit remains at 100 percent of capacity at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where health officials are seeing an average of 120 admissions a month.
About 70 percent of those patients are addicted to opiates, including heroin and painkillers, a number that has gradually been outstripping those addicted to other substances such as cocaine. And the patients seeking treatment for opiate addiction are getting younger, said Dr. Constantine Ioannou, vice chairman of clinical affairs for NUMC's Department of Psychiatry which oversees the unit.
"They get hooked on pain medication and then they are graduating to heroin, and the population is getting younger, 18, 19 or 20," Ioannou said.
The Inpatient Chemical Dependency Unit has a 20-bed inpatient medical detox and a 30-bed 28-day rehabilitation unit, where more and more people are seeking treatment for opiate addiction.
"The biggest thing that is driving it is easier access to the pain medications in the community at large," Ioannou said.
Heroin has become easier to obtain than before and is more pure so it does not have to be injected in the veins but can be snorted or cooked into a liquid and injected under the skin. It is a very difficult addiction to break and can be treated with the use of medications as well as use of both 12-step programs, and group and individual counseling.
Ioannou said he would like the unit expanded. It now serves only residents 18 and older.
"We need to expand services to a broader base, including people who need to work, people who cannot admit themselves to hospitals for up to a month and have greater access for teenagers," Ioannou said.
The long-term residential treatment facility Outreach House II in Brentwood can accommodate 55 residents ages 12 to 17 at the time of admission.
John Venza, vice president of adolescent services for Outreach, said demand has remained constant recently. But he predicts an increase.
"I think the trend is going to go up, not down. Many kids at younger ages have very little fear of trying pills," Venza said. "The pill addiction becomes costly. . . . The powdered heroin becomes cheaper."
Mark Epley, executive director of Seafield Center, a 90-bed inpatient treatment center in Westhampton Beach, said he has seen an increase in the number of heroin addicts seeking treatment but the center has been able to meet demand.
"If we do not have a bed available today, there will be a bed available tomorrow," Epley said. "We very rarely do not have a bed in our system."
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
The mother stood in front of a room filled with neighbors and told the story of her son's heroin addiction.
"I fight on a daily basis to save my son," she said, adding that he has been in drug rehab six times and is now in jail. "I go nose-to-nose with these drug dealers. . . . And they're coming after your kids."
The St. James woman was speaking to more than 200 people who filled the main room at the Nesconset Nursing Center to listen to civic leaders and government officials discuss how drugs, specifically heroin, have been gaining a foothold in their community.
Authorities say the problem isn't limited to Nesconset.
"There is an epidemic of heroin use on Long Island," said Jerry Roucoulet, acting director of nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.
"This is a problem that is creeping into our communities, and we are concerned," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, adding that his department has set up a special unit to follow up on heroin overdose deaths.
In Suffolk, all heroin overdoses rose from 151 in 2000 to 312 last year. In Nassau, they increased from 68 to 83 in the same period. Arrests for heroin sale and possession rose from 100 in 2002 to about 150 last year, Nassau police said.
In the Nesconset/Lake Ronkonkoma/Ronkonkoma area, drug-related arrests rose nearly 60 percent, from 200 in 2000 to 319 in 2008, according to police statistics.
The recent meeting in Nesconset spurred police to set up a special tips line for the Nesconset/Lake Ronkonkoma area, 631-854-TIPS. Calls will remain anonymous. Five new officers, taken off the highway patrol, also were added to the Fourth Precinct, police said.
The mother told the hushed crowd that drug dealers are working out in the open, selling heroin and other drugs outside fast food establishments, in parks and schoolyards.
Other residents told of neighborhood houses - from Nesconset to Lake Grove to St. James - where they say occupants use mailboxes as drug pickup centers.
Audience members said they were alarmed by the murder last year of 70-year-old Martha Watson, a Nesconset resident police say was killed by an intruder looking for drugs.
"You've got to get your head out of the sand," the mother told the crowd.
Smithtown's park rangers made three arrests for drug possession in town parks last week, and are expanding patrols. "Over the course of the last couple of years, there has been an increase of drug activity," said public safety director John Valentine.
Fred Gorman, president of the Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association, who organized the meeting and initiated the tips line, said he became aware of the heroin problem when his group found used syringes and baggies during a cleanup of the Bavarian Inn parking lot.
"The tip line is an excellent way to get the word to the police," he said. "If we aren't vigilant, we'll lose. Our entire community is at stake."
That concern also was echoed at the meeting by Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).
Another St. James mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her son has been a heroin addict for several years, and so are many of his friends.
She said heroin users can get high for as little as $10.
"It's here. It's hit us. It came to our nice little neighborhood," she said