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New bills support treatment access for substance abusers in Nassau County

Tech-focused legislation aimed at ending stigma

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A year after losing her son, Timothy, to a heroin overdose in August 2009, Teri Kroll, of Lindenhurst, was introduced to then 16-year-old Josh Lafazan through mutual friends on Long Island’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Within five minutes, the fast-talking 10th-grader promised Kroll that he would enact legislation in honor of Timothy if he were ever elected to public office.

Lafazan, now a Nassau County legislator, fulfilled that promise on Monday.

In a unanimous vote, the Legislature adopted two bills sponsored by Lafazan, intended to “make an immediate and discernible impact” in the fight against addiction and help those suffering from substance abuse. County Executive Laura Curran will sign the bills into law on Aug. 15.

“It’s a lot harder to get help than to get heroin,” said Lafazan, of Syosset. “Kids are getting addicted at younger and younger ages, and we as a government have not transformed our tactics to help them.”

For Lafazan, the sole millennial in the Legislature, hearing stories from peers about the “miracle of recovery” inspired him to fight for his more vulnerable constituents in the 18th District who are struggling with addiction. “The question was, how can we best reach the next generation to ensure they’re able to seek help in a time of need?” he said.

The first bill, named Timothy’s Law in honor of Timothy Kroll, will establish a 24-hour hotline to increase public awareness of substance-abuse services in Nassau County. The hotline will be staffed by certified substance-abuse counselors, who can provide on-demand crisis intervention, consultation and referrals for users or their loved ones over the phone or via text. All calls and messages will be anonymous.

The second bill will create a smartphone app encompassing substance-abuse assistance and resource information. The app will include a zip-code-searchable database for treatment centers, a comprehensive list of prevention, treatment and recovery resources available in Nassau County as well as a calendar of Narcan training dates, and will connect with both the police and the hotline in emergencies.

Kroll said that having access to an abundance of resources at the touch of a finger will be “fantastic.” “To be able to make a call and know someone on the other line is trained to help is huge,” she said.

Lafazan said that the hotline and app would be funded by the county’s asset-forfeiture account, which comprises assets the police have confiscated from alleged criminals. Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said he supported the legislation.

“We’ve seen a 30 percent reduction in non-fatal heroin overdoses and a 12 percent reduction in fatal heroin overdoses, but in no way are we near the end,” Ryder told the Legislature. “These bills, and anything that supports our fight against heroin and opiates, the Police Department is strongly behind.”

Lafazan, who caucuses with the Democrats but is unaffiliated with a political party, first announced plans for the legislation at a news conference in January, just days after his inauguration. Kroll attended the event, as well as Monday’s bill hearing. She said she believed the bills would help bring treatment to the forefront.

“There was no outward information about treatment when I needed it — people didn’t talk openly about addiction,” Kroll said. “My hope is to make the people who work in treatment fields more efficient, so people can get the help they need.”

Timothy Kroll’s battle with addiction began in 2005, when Dr. Saji Francis, an internist based in Massapequa, prescribed oxycodone for his headaches. It was the first time Timothy had encountered such a powerful drug. Unbeknown to his parents, he frequently returned to the doctor for refills, and Francis prescribed them, which led Timothy down a path to addiction.

Three months after he died, Francis was convicted of selling prescription drugs for cash. Timothy had reported him to police before succumbing to his addiction. Francis served five months in jail.

And Kroll turned her tragedy into triumph. For the past eight years she has advocated for substance-abuse awareness, education and treatment options in Albany and Washington to ensure that families in the throes of addiction and recovery have somewhere to turn for help. She became one of the first civilians trained in Narcan, and has worked with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and other organizations to reduce the stigma attached to substance abuse.

“This loss is bigger than you realize,” Kroll said. “A lot of people can’t look past the addiction aspect of it to see what we’re really losing.”

It was young talent like Lafazan, she said, that could be subjected to the horrors of addiction if gone unchecked. But with the new legislation in place, Kroll is confident that young individuals can get access to resources they so desperately need.