Legislators Form Task Force To Combat Heroin Use On East End

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In light of a heightened public awareness of heroin use throughout New York State, three East End legislators have devised a plan to combat use of the drug in the five eastern towns.

On Monday, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo announced their intention to create a group of local government officials, law enforcement agencies, court officials, counselors and treatment groups to discuss the issues at hand and develop potential remedies specifically for the village and hamlets within Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island towns.

The idea for the Heroin Addiction Legislative Task Force, or HALT, came to Mr. LaValle after the State Senate leadership formed a statewide task force in March, Greg Blower, a spokesman for the senator, said Tuesday. Mr. LaValle, who was not available for comment earlier this week, wanted an East End specific task force to avoid getting “lost in the mix” of the state’s task force, Mr. Blower said.

“Heroin abuse has reached epidemic levels in our communities,” Mr. LaValle wrote in an email. “I feel it is essential to specifically concentrate on the unique characteristics of our local towns and villages to adequately address the problem. With the formation of HALT, there is a now a mechanism where we can all work toward solutions with a comprehensive, community-based approach.”

The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on May 16 at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on Main Street in Riverhead and will focus primarily on gathering information from the people who deal with heroin users directly, Mr. Thiele said.

Once the issues are out in the open, the task force will focus on trying to come up with potential solutions, possibly by discussing what has or hasn’t worked in each specific municipality, Mr. Thiele said. The task force also will be able to discuss possible new legislation and state programs that could be useful.

“From my perspective, anyway, prevention and treatment need to be a very important part of this task force,” he said. “It can’t just be about harsher punishments, because we’ve seen that when it comes to drugs, tougher penalties alone don’t solve the problem.”

Mr. Thiele credited the increased attention on the drug to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February, but he said it has been a growing issue on Long Island for years, partially because of the drug’s low cost and high availability, as well as because of a crackdown on the recreational use of prescription pain medications.

Heroin generally is sold for about $10 in small bags that contain as little as 0.03 grams of the powder. Some of the bags are branded with names, with the higher-end “brands” selling for as much as twice the price.

Two major heroin operations have been broken up by police agencies in Suffolk County this year. The first, which was busted in January and February by the East End Drug Task Force—a cooperative police organization overseen by the district attorney’s office and consisting of police departments throughout the East End—consisted of a group of three suppliers from East Harlem and six distributors from Suffolk County that sold “Hollywood” brand heroin to users in Southampton, Riverhead and Southold. The second bust came in late March when a Holtsville couple was arrested for selling “High Octane” to dealers that sold in Holbrook, Oakdale, Islip, Central Islip, Ronkonkoma, Shirley and Riverhead.

“To those of my generation, when the issue of drugs came up, heroin was something people never thought of doing. Marijuana was out there, cocaine was out there, but heroin always seemed off limits,” Mr. Thiele said. “It’s not just an inner-city problem but a problem in every one of our communities.”

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