A frustrated drug treatment provider said promoting marijuana was more important to New York City leaders than tackling drug abuse.
Luke Nasta, founder and CEO of Camelot Counseling Centers, resented the fact that it takes longer to open a residential drug treatment center than it does to cut the ribbons on other massive, dazzling former government projects. Andrew Cuomo moved heaven and earth to help build the Mario Cuomo Bridge and the UBS Arena for the Islanders’ hockey team, for example.
Nasta has received funding from the State Office for Addiction Services and Support to open two inpatient treatment facilities.
OASAS awarded Camelot $ 11.4 million in 2016 to open a 35-bed condominium to help men recover from substance abuse on a site on Port Richmond Avenue in Staten Island.
The property owned by Camelot remains vacant six years later.
Meanwhile, Governor Kathy Hochul – then Lieutenant Governor – visited Camelot in 2018 and participated in the announcement of a separate 25-bed residential treatment program for women with addictions worth $ 16.5 million that will be held on the Sea View grounds Hospital Rehabilitation Center is to be set up and home in the district that belongs to NYC Health and Hospitals.
Four years later, this system is only in the design phase. Construction will start in mid-2022 at the earliest.
âIt’s just not a priority. Look how quickly the Javits Center was converted into a makeshift hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, âNasta told The Post.
“It feels like health discrimination against drug addicts,” he said. “If opening drug treatment facilities was a priority, they would already be open.”
In a newsletter to the Camelot Community, Nasta said, âI wish I could say we opened one of our two residential programs, but the wheels of progress are turning slowly. It could be in 2023 when we can open our doors to men, women and children trying to recover from the ravages of addiction.
âLast year we saw the legal use of recreational herbs come about. A brave attempt to circumvent discriminatory law enforcement at the expense of our long-term public health has been a tragedy, “he added in the newsletter.
He referred to Albany’s approval of recreational sales for adult use of marijuana. Weed and other forms of cannabis could be retailed later this year.
“Marijuana is not good for the developing brain,” said Nasta.
The number of overdose deaths hit historic highs in New York City during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – more than 2,243 people died in the fiscal year that ended on 31. That is a 36 percent increase from the previous year when 1,653 people died from overdoses died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nasta blamed the bureaucratic sluggishness of both the city and government support through the lack of support from former Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio for years of delays in opening treatment centers.
âCountry and city have to work together. It’s Cuomo and de Blasio’s fault, âhe said.
De Blasio instead focused on opening controversial legal shooting ranges or injection sites to reduce overdose deaths.
“Perhaps expanding drug treatment programs with new Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams will be a priority,” said Nasta.
The Hochul office referred questions to the State Office for Addiction Help and Help.
OASAS spokesman Evan Frost replied: âMeeting ongoing treatment needs remains a top priority for OASAS, be it in inpatient, inpatient, outpatient or opioid treatment programs. We will continue to work with our providers across the state to expand and improve our services where they are needed so that all New Yorkers who need help with addiction problems can get it. “
The OASAS would not say how long it takes on average to open a substance abuse facility as this varies from project to project depending on the circumstances.
The agency said it is ultimately the responsibility of the drug treatment provider to obtain local permits, find a contractor, and build the facility. OASAS doesn’t issue local building permits or hold building contracts, state officials said.
However, Nasta said the state dormitory authority was involved in bidding for the architect and general contractor for its two projects. Camelot then signed a contract with both of them.
He also complained that the City Buildings Office caused unnecessary delays in designating the Port Richmond facility as a residential building rather than a treatment center.
Senator Diane Savino, a Democrat who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, said opposition in the community is also a factor in slowing the opening of inpatient drug treatment centers.
“Everyone says we need drug treatment – ‘but not here,'” said Savino.
âIt’s very frustrating. People are now dying of substance abuse every day. People have a prejudice against drug addicts. “