A year ago, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder revealed that East Meadow had the second-highest opioid overdose rates in the county, with 57 nonfatal and seven fatal overdoses since Jan. 1, 2017.
At the time, a patient would be brought to a local hospital after an overdose only to be released the same day because, according to New York state, the condition is not considered “life-threatening.” This helps explain why there are so many relapses and overdose deaths, creating what county officials call the “treatment gap.”
On April 17, District Attorney Madeline Singas announced a new approach to closing the gap through a partnership among her office, East Meadow’s Nassau University Medical Center, the Northwell Health hospital network and the Maryhaven New Hope Crisis Center in Freeport.
When a patient is admitted to NUMC after an overdose, he or she will now be met by an addiction counselor from New Hope and immediately transferred to the crisis center for treatment, where “hope for the future will start immediately,” Singas said.
Once admitted to New Hope, patients will begin the detoxification process while staff assist them with enrollment in a long-term program. Typically, a stay lasts seven to 10 days, according to New Hope officials. New Hope staff will also help patients with insurance paperwork, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Since Ryder’s announcement, overdose rates have dropped significantly in East Meadow, he said, and are projected to continue falling countywide after the announcement of the New Hope partnership.
“New Hope will serve as a bridge to treatment for patients in our emergency departments who are struggling with addiction,” said Michael Dowling, president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health. “It’s an important step in our ongoing commitment to alter the course of this crisis.”
The partnership was announced a week before NUMC began a separate partnership with Northwell Health aimed at improving the financial condition and patient care at the East Meadow hospital.
Winnie Mack, Northwell Health’s senior vice president of health system operations, became the interim president and chief executive officer of NUMC on Monday. Under her leadership, roughly 50 Northwell employees have developed a five-year plan aimed at providing NUMC patients with quality care.
George Tsunis, chairman of NuHealth, NUMC’s parent company, described the partnership as a “new era,” and added that Northwell “brings a level of expertise, a level of accomplishment and a track record of putting patients first and delivering quality medical care on Long Island.”
To bolster its efforts to combat the opioid scourge, NUMC has added 20 more beds for detoxing patients, and introduced a Vivitrol program at the Nassau County Correctional Center to supply inmates with the detoxification drug when they are released.
To help New Hope with its expected surge in patients, Singas committed $585,000 in criminal asset forfeiture funding to expand the crisis center’s services. She added that New Hope is now accepting patients at all hours of the day.
Louis Iacona, an interventionist from Bellmore and founder of the independent treatment group The Sober Society, said he supported Singas’s announcement. “I think we should continue to be thinking outside of the box to help people no matter what.”
Iacona is also the creator of an online blog called the Addict’s Diary, on which he recounts his own stories of addiction and those of his clients. In one entry, he describes a pattern of overdosing, being treated at a hospital or detoxing in jail and then going back to using, calling it the “revolving door” of addiction.
Iacona said he saw the partnership as a way to end that pattern, and to keep overdose patients from going back on the street during withdrawal, which often leads to further drug abuse and sends them back to a hospital.
For more information on New Hope and other Long Island treatment programs, go to www.heroinprevention.com.