MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Nassau County Police on Wednesday revealed overdose numbers are significantly down in part due to a new initiative named after a teenager whose death was the first to highlight the opioid crisis.
Commissioner Patrick Ryder says Nassau County has seen a 30 percent reduction in non-fatal overdoses since January 1st. In the raging epidemic plaguing Long Island, it's the first decrease the county has seen in five years. Fatal overdoses are also down 11 percent, which Nassau Police credit to the new approach dubbed "Operation Natalie."
It's named after Victor Ciappa's 18-year-old daughter.
"Her death exposed the horrors of heroin addiction, which was in our backyards and none of us knew it," said Ciappa said on Wednesday.
Natalie Ciappa became the face of the heroin epidemic when she was found unresponsive on a friend's garage couch the morning after a party ten years ago. Since then, her parents have spent the decade trying to stem the ever-worsening crisis.
"You can see more arrests being made, less overdoses, less fatalities," said Ciappa. "Sadly, it's come at the cost of kids dying, but I can finally say I believe in the system now."
Operation Natalie, now in its seventh year, focuses on one hot spot at a time. It's currently set its sights on Valley Stream, where police map drug overdoses with auto larcenies to target enforcement and outreach.
"A lot of the auto larcenies are drug related," said Valley Stream Mayor Ed Fare. "People are stealing cars or things in cars to support their drug habit."
It's a five-pronged approach which officials say treats addiction as a disease.
"We go back to the people who have overdosed a week later," said Commissioner Ryder. "We make sure they're getting the resources they need, the the help that they need."
The plan is bolstered by diversion court, an arm of the court system which has helped hundreds of defendants get clean without imprisonment. Drug treatment counselors say they detect a possible turning point.
"I think we're making some headway, I really do," said Cecily Haranis from New Horizon Counseling Center.
Police remind parents if they find drugs they want tested, they can bring them to any precinct house for free testing. It's an option that may have saved Natalie's life ten years ago.
Officials will hold a community forum in Valley Stream to follow up on Operation Natalie on August 9th. They've encouraged all young adults to attend.
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