Pols concoct plan to combat ‘scourge of heroin’

Bags of Hollywood-branded heroin seized by the East End Drugs Task Force during an investigation into a Riverhead drug ring. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Bags of Hollywood-branded heroin seized in February by the East End Drugs Task Force during an investigation into a Riverhead drug ring. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A new program intended to help stem an onrushing tide of heroin use across the East End was announced Monday by local politicians.

Elected leaders at the state level — state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and assemblymen Fred Thiele (R-Sag Harbor) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) — said the Heroin Addiction Legislative Task Force, or HALT, will meet for the first time next month, with the hope, according to Mr. LaValle, of “combating the scourge of heroin and other opiates.”

Within the past two months, the East End Drug Task Force successfully disbanded two different heroin operations, one of which involved the sale of an ultra-potent premium form of heroin along Riverhead’s Route 58.

And according to data released in February by Dr. Michael Lehrer, chief toxicologist with the medical examiner’s office, heroin-related deaths in Suffolk County have increased by almost 300 percent in the past four years — from 28 in 2010 to 64 in 2011 and 83 in 2012, with about 82 deaths (and counting) reported in 2013. Not all drug-related cases from last year have been officially concluded, according to county officials.
The lawmakers say they hope HALT will bring together stakeholders from across the East End, including town and village law enforcement agencies, town supervisors and village mayors, to formulate a plan to address the growing heroin epidemic.

Substance abuse counselors, treatment groups and other providers will also be represented on the task force to offer different viewpoints on finding a viable solution.

“A broad-based East End approach will help us to identify areas where we can be productive,” said Mr. LaValle. “The increase in heroin use has reached alarming levels and we need to take action to address this critical situation.”

The creation of HALT is not the first heroin-related initiative to come out of Albany in recent weeks, as state leaders look to deal with overdoses related to opiate use. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced earlier this month that local police departments will be equipped with and trained in the use of Narcan, a life-saving drug that assists in overdose situations.

The effort’s overall goal is not only to attack abuse but to provide treatment services for those in need, officials said.

Chief Martin Flatley of the Southold Town Police Department said he will take part in the discussion and will attend the first meeting of HALT in May.

“It looks like a way of brainstorming to maybe come up with more effective ways to deal with heroin use, which is always of concern to us,” the chief said.

In the five East End towns, investigations involving heroin use and sales, and larger cases involving heroin distribution, are conducted by the East End Drug Task Force, Chief Flatley explained, adding that his department does net a number of arrests from its own general police work.
Recent heroin busts on the East End include a mid-winter crackdown on an operation that worked mostly along Route 58 in Riverhead and was responsible for at least six overdoses, District Attorney Thomas Spota said during a February press conference.

Authorities said heroin sold in that operation made its way across the county, as buyers from Rocky Point and Miller Place to Southold, Greenport and Southampton came into Riverhead to buy drugs.

“The time has come for a targeted approach and bold initiatives in New York’s fight against the opiate epidemic,” said Mr. Palumbo, a former narcotics prosecutor with the county DA’s office.

“I have seen firsthand the devastation that drug abuse heaps upon the lives of those affected,” he said. “This is an issue that ripples into the greater community, and it is critical for us to meaningfully address it in the form of real solutions that will be proffered by this task force.”