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Nassau County Relaunching Operation Natalie To Combat Opioid Abuse

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - Drug treatment providers are hoping for an increase in federal funding to match the surge in substance abuse and fatal overdoses sparked by isolation during the pandemic.

One Long Island father, whose daughter became the poster child for the drug epidemic, says it's critical.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reports, 13 years ago this week, Victor Ciappa and his wife lost their only daughter, Natalie. She was a cheerleader, choir and honor society member, who overdosed on heroin and died days before her Massapequa High School graduation.

"I'd like to speak directly to the parents who have a perfect child. Natalie was a perfect child. You have to open your eyes, swallow hard, get into their business, look at the friends, look at their cell phone. Be invasive to save your kid's life," Victor Ciappa said.

"It is tough on a parent and a community when we lose somebody that young, so innocent," said Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.

As we learn of the 40% spike in fatal overdoses in the area during COVID-19, many stuck inside homes, Nassau County is pledging to re-engage its pathways to recovery program, known as Operation Natalie.

"We lost our way when it came to COVID. We are bringing that fight back," Ryder said.

"Operation Natalie, which is a program that was to envelop families and individuals in seeking assistance for their opiate use," said Steven Chassman.

Chassman, of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, now is sadly adding more names of young people like Natalie.

"LICADD's job, in partnership with Nassau and Suffolk government, is to make sure that people are not alone," Chassman said.

Addiction and law enforcement experts on Long Island say the gains made in the war against opioids were erased during the pandemic because of social isolation, financial anxieties and mental health challenges.

"The same measures we took to protect ourselves from COVID put folks at higher risk ... Because of quarantine, it really was the perfect storm," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds of the Family & Children's Association.

Police are redoubling efforts to get heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl off the streets.

Many parents call the war on drugs a crisis their families must fight every day.

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