‘Destroying our communities’

Brooks forms opioid work group to curb drug abuse


State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, has formed an opioid policy working group of experts and community leaders from Wantagh, Seaford and surrounding areas to battle the epidemic locally. 

Brooks, who serves the 8th District, held a news conference with several members of the group on Sept. 14 at the YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa to share prevention and recovery tips. To help curb local drug abuse, YES CCC — which helps struggling addicts and their family members — and other organizations formed the Levittown Community Action Coalition to target drug hot spots and gauge community concerns. Wantagh and Seaford leaders and residents are involved in the Levittown group and Brooks’s efforts. 

After Brooks took office in January, he reached out to groups such as the Levittown Community Action Coalition, the Bellmore-Merrick Community Coalition and the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition to see how they were trying to prevent fatal overdoses and get opioids off area streets. He decided to form a work group with representatives of the coalitions, as well as doctors and experts, so they could share ideas and work together to tackle the widespread problem. 

“This epidemic is destroying our communities, and it’s time for us to reclaim our children, neighbors and loved ones,” Brooks said. “We must break free of the stigma that surrounds substance abuse. Absolutely no one is immune.” 

Dr. Jonathan Morgenstern, director of addiction services at Northwell Health, explained that there are treatments for addiction — just as there are for cancer or any other disease. Northwell has formed its own opioid task force, he noted, and is “looking at the ways that as health care practitioners [we] can have a positive effect on the opioid epidemic,” including lowering the amount of prescription narcotics given to a patient when appropriate and offering free Narcan training at facilities such as South Oaks Hospital, in Amityville. 

Jamie Bogenshutz, the executive director of YES CCC, encouraged local parents to immediately seek help if they feel that their child may be using drugs. She helped form the Levittown coalition, which she described as a place where residents of the Levittown School District may “help prevent and educate the community members so that we can reduce the incidence of death related to drug and alcohol use and abuse.” 

The coalition is working on a mapping project and composing a survey to identify parks, sumps, parking lots and other places of concern where potential drug use could take place. The group is also focusing on outreach to help foster grants. 

The Levittown Community Action Coalition’s members represent several community organizations, including the Wantagh-Levittown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the county Police Department, the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, the Nassau County Department of Human Services, the Levittown and Island Trees school districts and local houses of worship.  

“This is an issue that affects us all,” Bogenshutz said. “To make a difference, we must all be a part of the efforts to learn more, do more and be more for one another.”

Advocates such as Bogenshutz and representatives of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Drug Free Long Island, Families in Support of Treatment, the Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing group and the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition commended Brooks for bringing them together through the work group. But Brooks said that they are the ones doing the hard work in their communities to battle the problem.

In addition to facilitating monthly meetings for the work group, Brooks said he has and will continue to hold prevention events. Wantagh and Seaford residents stopped by his Drug Take-Back Day on Aug. 19 at Massapequa High School, disposing of unused and expired medications so that the drugs do not wind up on the street. 

Brooks said he has also met with representatives of local school districts, including Wantagh and Seaford, because all Nassau and Suffolk educators are concerned about opioid use in their communities. 

“I am not a doctor or an addiction specialist, but it is clear to me that people in our communities are hurting,” Brooks said. “They need help. We have many effective resources to help the individuals and their families.”