By: Hellen Zaboulani
A drug treatment provider slammed New York city and state political leaders for prioritizing marijuana sales over combating substance abuse and rehabilitation.
As reported by the NY Post, Luke Nasta, founder and CEO of Camelot Counseling Centers complained about how long it’s taking to open his residential drug treatment centers. Nasta pointed to the more glamorous ribbon cutting ceremonies that got prioritized by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including the Mario Cuomo Bridge and the UBS Arena for the Islanders hockey team.
Nasta says he received funding from the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports to open two residential treatment facilities. In 2016, OASAS awarded Camelot $11.4 million to open a 35-bed residential facility to help men recover from substance abuse in Staten Island on a Port Richmond Avenue site. Six years later, the site, owned by Camelot, is still undeveloped.
In 2018, then Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul had announced a separate $16.5 million, 25-bed residential treatment program for women suffering from addiction, to be located on the grounds of Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home, owned by NYC Health and Hospitals. That project is still in the design phase- with construction not slated to begin before mid-2022.
“It’s just not a priority. Look how quickly the Javits Center was converted into a temporary hospital during the coronavirus pandemic,” Nasta told The Post. “It feels like health discrimination against substance abusers,” he added. “If opening drug treatment facilities were a priority, they’d be open already.” During the pandemic, overdose deaths reached record highs in NYC, with over 2,243 people dying from drug overdoses during the year ending March 31, 2021. That’s a 36 percent jump over the previous year, when 1,653 overdoses deaths were recorded, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I wish I could say we opened either of our 2 residential programs, but the wheels of progress turn slowly,” Natsa wrote in a newsletter to the Camelot community. “It may be in 2023 when we can open our doors to men, women, and children attempting to recover from the ravages of addiction.”
Natsa also referred with dismay to Albany’s approval of recreational sale of marijuana for adult use. “This past year we have witnessed the surrender to legal recreational pot use. A gutless attempt to circumvent discriminatory law enforcement at the cost of our long-term public health, a tragedy,” he noted in the newsletter.
“Maybe with new Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, expansion of drug treatment programs will be a priority,” Nasta told the Post.