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LI detox center maxed out in occupancy

BY JOIE TYRRELL

joie.tyrrell@newsday.com

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.

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