A frustrated drug treatment provider said New York’s political leaders care more about promoting marijuana than combating substance abuse.
Luke Nasta, founder and CEO of Camelot Counseling Centers, fumed that it takes longer to open a residential drug treatment center than to cut ribbons on other massive glitzy projects that ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved heaven and earth to help complete: the Mario Cuomo Bridge and the UBS Arena for the Islanders hockey team, for example.
Nasta received funding from the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports to open two residential treatment facilities.
OASAS awarded Camelot $11.4 million in 2016 to open a 35-bed residential facility to help men recover from substance abuse on a Port Richmond Avenue site in Staten Island.
The site, owned by Camelot, remains a vacant lot six years later.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul — then lieutenant governor –visited Camelot in 2018 and participated in the announcement of 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 in the borough, which is owned by NYC Health and Hospitals.
Four years later, that facility is only in the design phase. Construction is not expected to begin until mid-2022, at the earliest.
“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 said. “If opening drug treatment facilities were a priority, they’d be open already.”
In a newsletter to the Camelot community, Nasta said, “I wish I could say we opened either of our 2 residential programs, but the wheels of progress turn slowly. It may be in 2023 when we can open our doors to men, women, and children attempting to recover from the ravages of addiction.
“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 added in the newsletter.
He referred to Albany’s approval of the recreational sale for the adult use of marijuana. Weed and other forms of cannabis could be sold in retail stores later this year.
“Marijuana is not a good thing for the developing brain,” Nasta said.
Overdose deaths reached historic highs in New York City during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — with more than 2,243 people dying from drug overdoses during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021 with a vast majority involving heroin and/or the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. That’s a 36 percent spike from the prior year, when 1,653 people died from overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nasta blamed bureaucratic inertia by both the city and state-aided by the lack of support by former Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio — for years-long delays in opening treatment centers.
“You have to have the state and city working together. It’s Cuomo and de Blasio’s fault,” he said.
De Blasio instead focused on opening controversial legal shooting galleries or injection sites to reduce overdose deaths.
“Maybe with new Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, expansion of drug treatment programs will be a priority,” Nasta said.
Hochul’s office referred questions to the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports.
OASAS spokesman Evan Frost responded, “Meeting the ongoing need for treatment continues to be a top priority for OASAS, whether it is residential treatment, inpatient, outpatient, or Opioid Treatment Program. We will continue to work with our providers throughout the state to expand and enhance our services wherever they are needed, so that all New Yorkers in need of help for addiction issues are able to receive it.”
OASAS would not say how long on average it takes to open a substance abuse facility, saying it varies from project to project depending on circumstances.
The agency said ultimately it’s the responsibility of the drug treatment provider to obtain local approvals, find a contractor, and construct the facility. OASAS does not issue local construction approvals or hold construction contracts, state officials said.
But Nasta said the state Dormitory Authority was involved in issuing bids for the architect and general contractor for both of his projects. Camelot then entered in a contract with both.
He also complained that the city Buildings Department caused unnecessary delays by labeling the Port Richmond facility as an apartment building rather than a treatment center.
Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, said community opposition also is a factor in slowing down the opening of residential drug treatment centers.
“Everyone says we need drug treatment — `but not here,’” Savino said.
“It’s very frustrating. Meanwhile people are dying every day from substance abuse. People have a bias against drug addicts.”