School Superintendent Named To County’s Opioid Task Force

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran recently announced the formation of a policy task force that will develop an action plan to address the widespread consequences inflicted by the opioid crisis in Nassau.

The task force, co-chaired by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe, will focus on identifying affected populations, specific community needs and existing barriers to necessary addiction abatement, treatment and prevention. The task force will provide a plan of action for the county after 90 days to collectively respond to these needs.

One notable person from the area, who will be a part of the task force, is Dr. Jennifer Morrison, who is the superintendent of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District. Other members include Nassau County Legislator James Kennedy, Assistant District Attorney Rene Fiechter, who is also the current chair of Nassau DA Madeline Singas’ Heroin Task Force, Director of Community Services, Nassau County Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency, Developmentally Disabled Omayra Perez, Director of Education at SAFE Center Keith Scott, Executive Director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence Steve Chassman and Executive Director of the YES Counseling Center Jamie Bogenschutz.

“As this epidemic continues to devastate families across Nassau and across America, we are gathering our best and brightest to develop a future-focused action plan that will address long-term treatment and education needs in Nassau County,” said Curran. “We cannot wait this crisis out—for every additional life we can save, there is another family that does not have to bury a loved one.”

The Nassau County Police, according to Ryder, continues its ongoing fight against illegal drugs, which are destroying local communities and families alike.

“We have to keep our enforcement strategies prevalent and have to also ensure that all persons suffering from addiction have the best resources available to break the cycle of drug abuse,” said Ryder. “This is crucial for the success of the task force and our society.”

“I look forward to working with the other community stakeholders to help identify measures that ensure our children grow up to be drug-free, strong, healthy and happy adults,” said Morrison, who was invited by Curran’s office to participate in the task force.

The school district is also proactive in teaching its young students about the dangers of drug use and addiction.

“Prevention and awareness, and the ability to make good choices are always included in health lessons across grade levels and are age appropriate,” said Morrison.

Some of the objectives that the county’s new opioid task force will be in charge of include developing a “snapshot” projection of county-wide needs in order to address the long-term impact of the opioid crisis, identifying any necessary new services to respond to program gaps, identifying new ways to enhance existing initiatives including Operation Natalie and the district attorney’s Heroin Task Force combatting the opioid crisis and engaging with community stakeholders to identify existing barriers to prevention and treatment care for opioid addiction.

Last year, the county launched “Operation Natalie” to combat the opioid crisis in honor of Natalie Ciappa, a Nassau teen who died of a drug overdose. This led to the Nassau Police Department’s implementation of the ODMap, which uses real-time reporting to identify clusters of major felonies associated with addicts, such as breaking into cars for money or items to sell. The system then overlays that information with clusters of overdoses.

ODMap tracks these as they occur, which alerts the police about possible increases in overdoses so they can use this information on enforcement efforts in specific areas. From 2017 to 2018, the number of fatal overdoses fell 17 percent.

Curran also signed two bills last year to fight substance abuse, establishing a hotline accessible around the clock and a smartphone application for referrals. The hotline bill, sponsored by Legislator Josh Lafazan, was named “Timothy’s Law” in memory of Timothy Kroll, who lost his battle with drug abuse in August 2009.

The hotline and smartphone app are intended to provide on-demand assistance and information to residents in the event of an emergency or other time of need. The 24-hour substance abuse hotline will provide access to certified substance abuse counselors and trainees who possess knowledge, training and experience in substance abuse counseling referrals.

The smartphone application for substance abuse assistance information and resources will provide prevention, treatment and recovery resources, a NARCAN training calendar, and include support hotline telephone numbers. These resources will support ongoing efforts by Curran’s administration and the Nassau County Police Department, to fight the opioid epidemic by encouraging prevention, awareness and treatment options.

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