Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Department of Health Services Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken today announced that the Suffolk County Department of Health has been chosen to participate in the HEALing Communities Study being conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The study aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent over three years in 67 communities in four states by using a set of proven prevention and treatment interventions.
The states included in the study include New York, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Suffolk County, which is one of 16 counties in New York State to participate in the HEALing Communities initiative, will receive an estimated $191,000 initially and will receive additional funding over the course of the study.
“This landmark study is focused on assisting our communities in planning and carrying out proven approaches that can work in unison to reduce opioid related overdoses and fatalities,” said County Executive Bellone. “This research is urgently needed, and I am pleased that Suffolk County will be at the leading edge of an unprecedented, life-saving national initiative.”
“We are finding that though there are many proven treatment programs to help people with opioid use disorder, very often these services are not being used in all the places that they are needed and in the ways that are most helpful to our communities,” said Dr. Tomarken. “For communities to successfully address the opioid crises, we need to implement strategies that take our unique local needs and resources into account.”
The study will test how different proven approaches to preventing opioid overdose deaths work together. It will look at prevention, overdose response, and treatment with medications across different health care, criminal justice, and community-based settings. And it will focus on places most impacted by the opioid crisis, such as communities with more opioid overdose deaths compared with other communities.
In addition to the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths, the study aims to increase the number of people who have naloxone, a drug that saves lives by reversing an opioid overdose; expand use of medications for opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone; and reduce high-risk opioid prescribing practices. The study will also look at what is needed to help the community start and continue a successful fight against its opioid overdose epidemic and if the money spent to do this helps save dollars in other ways.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall costs of health care, lost productivity, opioid use disorder treatment, and criminal justice involvement caused by prescription opioid misuse in the United States is close to $79 billion per year.
The HEALing Communities Study is supported by the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse along with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Grants totaling more than $350 million dollars to support the study have been awarded to Columbia University in New York City, the University of Kentucky, Boston Medical Center, Ohio State University and RTI International in North Carolina.
The county was notified by Columbia’s Social Intervention Group in late October that it was chosen to take part in wave one of the study, which it set to begin in December 2019. Other New York counties participating in wave one are Cayuga County, Columbia County, Erie County, Greene County, Lewis County, Putnam County, and Ulster County. Wave two of the study will include Broome County, Chautauqua County, Cortland County, Genesee County, Monroe County, Orange County, Sullivan County, and Yates County.
Suffolk County has implemented a comprehensive approach to curbing the opioid epidemic through a variety of avenues, including enforcement, education and prevention. The County has invested significant resources and offered programs and services to help those struggling with addiction, help family members recognize the possible signs of addiction, and provide them the tools they need to be able to have that difficult discussion to broach the topic.
Since the opioid overdose prevention pilot project in 2012, all first responders in Suffolk County, including police officers, have been trained to identify and reverse opioid overdoses. As a result, EMS, police, and lay citizens trained in the program have saved countless lives. This program has been a critical part of the response to the opioid epidemic. The administration has also implemented a 24/7 substance abuse hotline, launched in April of 2016 in partnership with LICADD, to link callers to appropriate treatment or support services during their time of need.