SOUTHHOLD, Suffolk County (WABC) -- From Southold to Shelter Island, police and prosecutors called for stiffer penalties for dealers who peddle the drugs, which as recently as last week led to 6 deaths in these communities on the East End of Long Island.
The Suffolk County district attorney on Thursday announced the arrests of 2 alleged dealers behind those deaths.
"We need to empower law enforcement to hold drug dealers accountable. Law enforcement should not have to hold strategy meetings and brainstorm sessions for how to put murderers behind bars," Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.
Officials on Long Island are warning about fentanyl-laced cocaine after the overdoses.
Illicit drug makers often include other ingredients to cut costs by bulking up their product with cheaper nonactive ingredients or to achieve particular effects by adding other drugs to mask poor product quality or imitate the desired effect of the drug itself.
For heroin, veterinary anesthetic xylazine is commonly added to intensify its relaxing effect -- and fentanyl is increasingly being used as a substitute.
Because fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, a smaller amount of total product can produce similar effects. But adding even just a slightly larger amount of fentanyl than expected can easily result in an overdose.
It's not only the East End they're worried about. In Nassau County, fatal drug overdoses reached 390 last year, a 34 percent hike from 2019. They rose by 11% in Suffolk County to 287.
Advocates and community leaders attribute the increase to the pandemic.
"And the paradox of social isolation is it protects you from one disease, yet it increases your anxiety and your depression and drug and alcohol use in another way. That's what we're grappling with right now, and that's one of the reasons it's gotten so much worse," Jeff Reynolds of the Family and Children's Association said.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York on Thursday announced $1.6 million more in federal funding for recovery programs. One is located on the East End, where the recent overdoses occurred, but he hopes to triple funding with future federal legislation
"Which will mean the full federal pot that Long Island could tap, would be over 9 billion dollars," Sen. Schumer said.
For Swainson Brown, who died of an overdose last week, it's tragically too late. For Ryan Kiser, a 37-year-old recovering addict, these programs have made the difference between life and death.
"It's one of the reasons I'm alive talking with you and have 5 years sustained recovery," he said.
Kiser works with an organization called Thrive, which helps people through their recovery from addiction.
ALSO READ | Warning about fentanyl laced cocaine after rash of overdoses on Long Island
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