It seems that every time you turn on local news, read Newsday, or your community paper some journalist is reporting about the horrors of drug abuse in suburbia. The stories also seem to follow a common thread of intelligent young people from caring families, with bright futures ahead of them falling victim to drug dependency. The myriad of reasons why Long Island’s young are being caught in a dangerous, life controlling crisis appear to run the gamut from high school or college athletes injuring themselves while playing sports that require surgery and/or treatment with addictive opioids to, good kids making bad choices about the people they associate with, to kids playing a form of Russian roulette in their parents’ medicine cabinet. The challenge we face today isn’t so much why the epidemic started but, rather what are we going to do to respond to it, accepting that after decades of fighting a war on drugs, Long Island and America is losing the battle.
In a recent commentary in Long Island Business News, freshman Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) calls for increased funding and accessibility to treatment and recovery services as one major topic that government needs to address. He advocates for affordable treatment and recovery options through major healthcare reform to treat addiction as a disease. Congressman Zeldin can be a powerful voice for the many families on Long Island that are living with the nightmare of substance abuse and addiction. He can also become the advocate in Congress that our network of qualified and expert regional substance abuse treatment programs deserve, especially during congressional budget negotiations where the very programs that Zeldin is advocating for have had their funding cut by the elected body that Zeldin has become a member of. At a time when Zeldin is calling for increased funding for education and awareness in our schools many of his colleagues are calling for less government intervention and funding regardless of how significant the drug epidemic has become.
Sure, education, community awareness and meeting with constituents can serve to enlighten families and communities about the dangers of addiction and substance abuse, but you also need to invest in comprehensive treatment and alternative medications that can interrupt the cycle of addiction, and that will take determination and money. The war on drugs should be elevated to a similar ranking as our war on terrorism if we’re going to make a difference. Congressman Zeldin’s willingness to engage in a bipartisan approach to stop the epidemic is very promising. His calling for targeted enforcement to cut off the flow of drugs is bold but nothing new. I’m concerned that if Zeldin can’t rally his colleagues to join his war on drugs, then depending upon the outcome of the November election we might be looking at a proposal to build another wall, and that’s not what we really need. We need Long Island to work together to bring our healthcare and substance abuse industry together with human service professions, families and educators to develop a coordinated and realistic response to addressing drug abuse with funding support from local, state and federal government. And, we need more leaders like Zeldin willing to speak up and bring the funds to Long Island.
This article initially appeared in the HIA-LI Reporter in June, 2016.