Suffolk County is the leader of Long Island’s opioid-related deaths, but it is also the site where those hoping to heal the island — and country at large — from an addiction epidemic will be working to understand, combat, treat, and defeat addiction at an innovative 80-bed residential treatment and research center called Wellbridge.
Ground broke for Northwell Health and Garden City-based Engel Burman Group’s upcoming $95 million facility — the first of its kind connected to a major health system — on October 25 in Calverton where recovering substance user Douglas Albert, 60, of Lindenhurst, explained how vital treatment is for those seeking success in their recovery from addictions.
After years of struggles with abusing alcohol and cocaine, Albert had been sober for 13 years until 2007, at which point prescribed painkillers to dull the pain of a torn meniscus in his knee led to an opiate addiction and a relapse with alcohol. “Three pills became nine, then 12, and the next thing you know my 30-day prescription lasted me five days,” Albert said of opioid dependence. “So, what do I do? I got to go buy them on the street and I spent a fortune. All my money — everything went to that addiction.”
The 60-year-old Lindenhurst man is now two years sober after receiving treatment at Amityville’s South Oaks Hospital, which will ultimately share clinical and academic resources with Wellbridge, alongside the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks.
Once construction is completed in late 2019, Wellbridge’s addiction specialists and researchers will use traditional and alternative treatments to track the short and long-term progress of patients living on the 40-acre Calverton campus and study the neurological effects of addiction using brain imaging and other methods aimed toward improving therapies and preventing relapse.
“Having patients down the hall from researchers is very rare in addiction treatment centers, but we know it’s absolutely necessary to study and properly treat the disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Morgenstern, the assistant vice president of substance abuse services at Northwell Health. He will lead the team of about 50 clinicians and researchers at the new facility, which will consist of more than half the planned staff.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, on hand at last week’s ground-breaking event, echoed this sentiment when she spoke to The Independent about Wellbridge Friday morning.
“I think it’s a great combination of a treatment and research facility together,” Jens-Smith said. “Having those co-located is very much necessary to help tackle the opioid epidemic and the addictions that people in our community face.”
More than 500 Long Islanders died from opioids in 2017.
“We’re in the midst of an opioid crisis of chilling proportions,” said Wellbridge CEO Andrew Drazan. “There is not a single one of us who does not know some family that has been harmed by this scourge. This facility will help fill a major gap in
substance abuse treatment in our community.”
By Gianna Volpe