Cheap, addictive, deadly. Those were the words used by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano when discussing why heroin use in the county continues to rise. Four county residents die every month due to a heroin overdose, according to Mangano.
On Thursday, new measures were announced to try and wipe those numbers out. Mangano, in conjunction with Nassau County Police and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, unveiled a three pronged approach to deal with the distribution and use of heroin. This will include enforcement, awareness and education.
"Today, Nassau County declares war on the growing heroin epidemic," Mangano said at a Thursday press conference at police headquarters in Mineola.
The first part of the program involves the police. They will be spearheading Operation HALT (Heroin Abuse Location & Targeting). HALT will consist of 30 members of the police department, whose sole task will be interrupting the flow of the drug into the county. HALT will work with officials on the local, city, and federal level to combat heroin distribution.
According to Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, heroin is making its way through the county by way of a 'casual distribution network.' Most users travel out of Nassau, purchase the drug, then return to distribute it to other users.
"We cannot solve this problem by arrests alone," Mulvey said. "We made 386 arrests last year, up to 66 so far this year...the plan to address the parental awareness and a comprehensive educational component, coupled with strong enforcement...is the only way to approach this problem."
Mulvey said several officers have been promoted to detective as part of the initiative.
He also says the Department has been working with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (LICADD) to jumpstart the awareness aspect of the program. An advertising campaign is being created to get the word out that heroin is prevalent in local communities.
According to Jeff Reynolds of LICADD, the problem is what he calls 'suburban denial.' The images most parents have of heroin users is that of someone lying in a city street with a needle sticking in his arm. That is no longer exclusively the case.
"Each and every day we get calls from parents in Garden City, in Glen Cove...saying 'I can't believe these words are coming from my mouth, but I think my kid's addicted to heroin,'" Reynolds said.
"The enforcement piece [of the program] is vital; the awareness piece is equally as important. This is preventable...there doesn't have to be another addicted kid, there doesn't have to be another dead kid," he added.
Mangano noted that the awareness campaign would be funded by asset forfeiture dollars, and that details on the education component would be released in the near future.
To further illustrate the growing heroin problem, Mangano noted the recent case of a 20-year-old student on the south shore that shot himself up with the drug at home, right under his parents' noses. The County Executive displayed a text message the student sent to a friend:
"Yo, I'm diggin this, my dude...best [stuff] I had in a while for real, save my number...peace," the message read. Those would be his last words. His mother found him dead in the bathtub shortly after the message was sent.
"That is how his life ended, and that must stop," Mangano said.
At the North Bellmore Civic Association meeting earlier this week a POP (Problem Oriented Police) officer mentioned the widespread heroin problem and its probable link to recent burglaries.
At their December meeting, a Officer John Bilello discussed drug activity going on at Dunkin Donuts on Newbridge Road. He also mentioned how heroin activity in particular has increased in Massapequa, Bellmore and Merrick.