Efforts to Reduce Long Island Opioid Use Epidemic

Photo Credit: Health.mil

By Stephanie Velazquez

Early on Thursday, March 23, a passenger on a Jetblue flight overdosed on heroin and anxiety medication thousands of feet in the air, forcing the plane to return to Kennedy Airport.

The 24 year-old man, whose identity was not released, survived for two reasons. The JetBlue staff who made the decision to land, and the Port Authority officers who administered the life saving drug called Narcan.  

Narcan is a medication which is used to treat narcotic overdoses in an emergency situations.

Opioid related overdoses aren’t a rare occurrence in Long Island. In fact, Fentanyl, an anesthetic commonly used for surgery, surpasses heroin as the deadliest drug on Long Island, according to a recent New York Times article. Fentanyl killed at least 220 people in 2016 and can be 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the NYC Medical Examiner’s office.

Although opioids are believed to be an urban problem, opioid drug use and deaths are becoming a problem in suburbs like Long Island.

Public awareness over opioid drug usage in Long Island grew in June of 2008 after 18-year-old Natalie Ciappa died from a heroin overdose. The Long Island Press described Ciappa as “a pretty cheerleader from Massapequa with an honor roll GPA and a voice so beautiful that she was asked again and again to perform at her school, Plainedge High School.”

Doreen Ciappa, Natalie’s mother, described her child as, “…everybody’s kid, not the kid they would have to worry about.”

Ciappa developed an addiction to the drug in the summer of 2007. Approximately a month before her death, on Memorial Day, she overdosed on heroin. She was introduced to heroin by her ex-boyfriend, Philip Ordaya, who was involved with selling drugs according to Nassau County Police.

Incidents such as these encouraged lawmakers to pass Natalie’s Law, which requires information technology staff with the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments to begin mapping heroin possession and sales arrests on the Internet. The law also states that IT staff are required to update the data monthly with the date, time, location and defendant’s age.

Natalie’s Law was signed into law nine years ago, but the website has issues regarding the monthly updates of the opioid related arrests back in 2014. The Long Island Press questioned the police department on why the website lacked updates for a three-year gap.

The website was then shut down for no explanation and then relaunched two months after the Long Island Press began its investigation.

According to the heroin map located on the Nassau County Police Department website, as of January and February 2017, there were over 100 heroin-related arrests in Nassau County. The map shows that suspects’ ages range from 19 to 60-years-old and show the majority of arrests are adults ranging in their upper 20’s to 60’s.

Last February Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano, Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, Nassau’s Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, and Suffolk’s Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini announced the creation of the Long Island Heroin Task Force. A Task Force comprised of county law enforcement officers to combat the heroin epidemic that continues to affect Long Island.

The announcement took place at the Nassau County Educational Heroin Summit and Rally. Those in attendance at the summit included government, law enforcement, school, and medical experts who discussed the latest treatments to battle heroin and opiate addictions.

“The Long Island Heroin Task Force will leverage the collective resources of both police departments towards the investigation into drug crimes and to apprehend those who contribute to the heroin epidemic,” Mangano wrote in a statement.

He later added that they’ll conduct investigations, take down drug dealers through the sharing of intelligence, and slow the flow of narcotics into the neighborhoods.

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