Nassau County Executive Laura Curran recently announced the creation of a task force aimed at developing a plan to combat the opioid crisis in the area. This nine-person board is made up of various individuals that could lead the way to determining how to solve one of the biggest issues that plague the county, and most of the U.S., today.
Among those serving on the board is Republican Legislator James Kennedy, a Massapequa native who has been in office since 2015. He is one of two legislators who were added to the committee, the other being Democratic legislator and task force co-chair Siela Bynoe.
“What they are trying to do is bring together a bunch of different people from different areas,” said Kennedy. “For me, representing an area that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, it is my duty to provide solutions for the people living in Nassau County. My role as legislator is to bring together resources and funding to combat the crisis.”
Curran has tasked the force to identify affected areas, specific community needs and existing barriers to necessitate addiction abatement, treatment and prevention. They have been given 90 days to provide the county a plan on how to fight this epidemic moving forward.
For Kennedy, he hopes to help towns greatly affected by the issue, especially in his hometown of Massapequa. One of the cases that stands out is a 2009 arrest of physician Dr. Saji Francis. “Dr. Frank,” as he was referred to by drug suspects the police interviewed, was charged with nine counts of felony criminal sale of prescriptions. Police said patients of the doctor would just need to visit his Merrick Road offices and tell him that they needed the pills and he would sell prescriptions to them without a physical exam or blood test.
“Over the last decade, it’s impacted so many families,” said Kennedy. “That doctor was a driving force of the problem in the area, unfortunately. [The crisis] has taken over so many communities. As an elected official, I feel like I have an opportunity to bring all the communities and all the elected officials together. Myself and Legislator Bynoe are on the task force, but really it’s a matter of time to get everyone involved.”
In 2018, Nassau County launched “Operation Natalie” to combat the opioid crisis in honor of Natalie Ciappa, a local teen who died of a drug overdose. This led to the creation of the ODMap, which uses real-time reporting to identify clusters of major felonies associated with addicts, such as breaking into cars for money or items to sell. The system then overlays that information with clusters of overdoses, alerting the police about possible increases in overdoses so they can use this information on enforcement efforts in specific areas.
There was also legislation passed that led to the implemation of a hotline for those in need of help and a smartphone app that provides information, tips and other resources to those looking to fight back against their opioid addiction.
“These measures were extremely important,” said Kennedy. “I think everything that the police commissioner [Patrick Ryder] has put into place to fight this epidemic has been fantastic. With the county executive making this task force all the way to the president making one, everyone is making an attempt to solve the problem. It’s an uphill battle, but we can’t let up on it.”
Kennedy has already worked with Ryder, who also serves as a co-chair on the task force, in bringing cameras into the Massapequa Preserve to make that area safer. He also worked with the Massapequa Kiwanis Club in putting up signs around the area to encourage people to download the Crime Stoppers app and if they see something, say something. Kennedy said he was honored to have been selected on this task force to stop the opioid crisis from rapidly growing.
“I accepted immediately,” said Kennedy. “This is one of the things that really worried me when I first ran for office, so this is something that I’ve been fighting, as has everyone else. Every little bit can make a difference. I was honored to be chosen and I really do feel that all these people that have come together will work well. Its an impressive group that’s going to make an impact. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
For more information on the task force and other opioid programs, visit www.nassaucountyny.gov.