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Residents flooded the Rocky Point High School auditorium on Tuesday for a night of education on drugs and a chance to see what drug use is like in the district.

John Venza, vice president of Adolescent Services for Outreach, a New York-based organization that encourages community residents to seek help for substance abuse, and Suffolk County Senior Drug Abuse Educator Stephanie Sloan tackled drug education in the nearly two-hour forum.

Gateway drugs, drug use causes, the evolution of these substances and how parents and students alike can navigate through life without using drugs were among the topics discussed. The forum was also an opportunity to see results from the New York State-issued 2014-15 survey regarding youth development. Rocky Point was one of 10 school districts that took the survey, which examined drug use and prevalence in the district.

“Let’s face it, teenage years are tough enough to begin with, but then you have all this stuff added on — I wouldn’t want to go through [adolescence] again [now],” said Amy Agnesini, forum organizer and athletic director for Rocky Point.

Although drug use in Rocky Point’s seventh and eighth-graders falls below state average for alcohol and energy drinks — the most common substances used by this age group — the survey revealed the use of these two drugs in addition to chewing tobacco or using marijuana, cigarettes and pain relievers, among a few other drugs, increased in high school.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) was among the speakers in attendance. Bonner announced her piece of legislation to ban hookah lounges, vape and smoke shops within 1,000 feet of various locations, including schools, non-degree granting schools, like a ballet or karate studio, religious facilities, hospitals and other areas. She added that there will be a public hearing on the ban proposal in the near future.

“This is a war — we are in the trenches as parents, as educators, as members of the community — we’re the ones battling,” said Rocky Point Superintendent of Schools Michael Ring. “The battle isn’t necessarily in the streets, the way a lot of people think it is … it’s in your living room.”

According to Venza, technology isn’t the only thing that’s evolved; drugs have as well. People can now use devices like vape pens to smoke different forms of marijuana, including a dab, a waxy substance with high concentrations of THC. Between 14 and 24-years-old is the worst time to smoke marijuana in a person’s life, Venza said during the forum. The potency of drugs, including marijuana, has also increased over the decades.

“Unlike 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago where you needed a needle, you no longer need a needle because [of the purity of the drugs],” Venza said about heroin needles. People can now sniff the drug and get high, which makes trying the drug less daunting, Venza added.

Outreach’s Vice President of Adolescent Services John Venza educates adults and children about drugs during a forum at Rocky Point High School. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Outreach’s Vice President of Adolescent Services John Venza educates adults and children about drugs during a forum at Rocky Point High School. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Hope House Ministries’ Opioid Overdose Prevention Program’s Clinical Director Dr. Jennifer Serrentino said 120 people die from drug overdose daily. Last year, there were around 100 fatal heroin overdoses in Suffolk County alone.

Although one resident voiced her concerns that the forum would give students more ideas on how and where to use drugs, the speakers and parents, like Sound Beach resident Sharon Ferraro, think knowledge is power.

“If you were at a party or at a friend’s house and you see that paraphernalia, that’s your trigger to get out,” Ferraro said to her daughter Molly Searight, after the resident posed the question.

Ferraro said she is very involved with her children, but that’s not the case for every family. She said some parents are busy and don’t always spend quality time with their children. Although Ferraro’s daughter Molly hasn’t seen students using drugs on campus, beyond electronic cigarettes or vape pens in the bathroom, she said she hears of drug use from peers. After the event, Molly said she’s more aware of the effects of alcohol on youth.

Residents and speakers alike, including the councilwoman, were not only pleased with the event’s turnout, but also the large volume of residents who were in attendance.

“I was so proud of the community that I live in, that it was standing room only,” Bonner said. “People [are] finally recognizing that you can’t bury your heads in the sand. Community forums like this one are integral to combatting this [drug use issue].”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner is up against Coram resident Democrat Mike Goodman to represent the 2nd Council District Nov. 7. Photos by Kevin Redding

Coram resident Mike Goodman is running against incumbent Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) because he said he thinks he could bring positive changes to the town — ones that will streamline services, create more jobs, keep young folks on Long Island and make transparency changes with lasting effects.

An English major from St. Joseph’s College, who also studied religion and computer science, the Democrat challenger said he takes major issue with the lack of job creation and affordable housing in the town.

Flooding in Rocky Point has been a cause for concern in relation to sewers on the North Shore. File photo from Sara Wainwright

“My brother is a recent graduate, he’s a really smart, great, hard-working guy and it’s hard for him to find a place to live here, and I’ve seen all my friends leave for the same reason,” he said. “I want to put a stop to the brain drain. There are a lot of companies that don’t come here because it takes so long to deal with the bureaucracy of the town. I’m personally affected by a lot of these problems.”

Bonner, who is running for her sixth term at the helm of the 2nd Council District, said during a debate at the TBR News Media office in October she didn’t know if it’s her 27-year-old opponent’s age or inexperience but he lacks knowledge of affordable housing issues.

“To say you want more affordable housing, it’s a lofty and noble goal, it just has to make sense where you put it,” she said.

She also pointed out the flaws in fulfilling some of her opponent’s goals in her district, specifically constructing walkable downtowns and affordable housing complexes.

Coram resident Mike Goodman is running for political office for the first time. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Sewers are very expensive and with that, developers are going to want density,” she said. “Density doesn’t work if you don’t have mass transportation to have these walkable downtowns, to have trains and expanded bus system, but also the county cut the bus system in the districts that I represent and the current legislator wrote a letter to not bring sewers to Rocky Point and Sound Beach. We don’t have expanded gas lines in Rocky Point either, and the seniors in the leisure communities are struggling with getting heat. As the closest level of government to the people that’s responsible for the least amount of your tax bill, we are great advocates to other levels of government to help the residents out because we’re the ones that end up cleaning up the mess.”

Goodman also suggested more housing attractive in price and environment to millennials, and Bonner pointed to the current project proposed for the site next to King Kullen in Mount Sinai, but also pointed to issues with affordable housing.

Stimulating job creation was a goal raised by both candidates.

Bonner said 500,000 positions could be created if Brookhaven wins the bid to bring an Amazon headquarters to the Calabro Airport in Mastic and the site of former Dowling College.

“Something that takes 45 days to get cleared with any other town takes two years to do here,” Goodman said in response. “I don’t think Amazon of all companies wants to deal with a town that’s bragging about recently getting computers. If we want to deal with the tech sector, if we want to have good paying jobs in manufacturing or technology, instead of the more and more retail I see happening, we need to attract big businesses here, and that happens by streamlining bureaucracy.”

Millennial housing was a topic for discussion, which there are plans to construct in Mount Sinai. Image top right from Basser Kaufman

The Newfield High School graduate pointed to his software development background at Hauppauge-based Globegistics, and side business building websites and fixing computers, as evidence of his abilities to cut administrative “red tape.”

“I would like a publicly-facing forum,” he said, referring to a ticketing system like JIRA, a highly customizable issue-management tracking platform. “Everyone can see all of the issues that have been called into the town, who in the town is working on it, how long it will take to get done and what it’s going to cost. I think town contracts should be made public so people can see who is getting the work done and how much they’re being paid, so people aren’t just getting family members jobs.”

Bonner emphasized many of hers and the town’s efforts in streamlining services, managing land use and implementation of technology, but also noted her and her colleagues’ desire for transparency.

“I think it is an overused expression, because I don’t know any person I work with on any level of government that doesn’t advocate for transparency; gone are the days of Crookhaven,” she said. “We’ve become more user-friendly, we aren’t as archaic as we used to be.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner is seeking her sixth term. Photo by Kevin Redding

Bonner has a long list of accomplishments she said she’s proud of playing a part in during her 12 years on the board. Bringing single-stream recycling to her constituents; refurbishing and redoing most of the parks and marinas; and working on a land use plan for the solar farm at the old golf course grounds in Shoreham that will generate about $1 million in PILOT payments for 20 years were some of the examples she noted.

She said she is also looking forward to improving handicap accessibility at town parks.

“When you’re walking in a particular park you see maybe a park needs a handicap swing and think about where in the budget you can get the money for it,” Bonner said. “The longer you’re at it there’s good things you get to do, they’re very gratifying.”

Goodman said he’s hoping to just create a better Brookhaven for the future.

“I’m running to make the town I’ve always lived in better, and not just better now, but better 10, 20 years from now,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things that can be done better, I want to do the work and I think I’m qualified to do the work.”

The current councilwoman said she hopes to continue to improve and build on the things already accomplished.

“The longer you serve, the more layers you can peel back in the onion and you see problems that need to be solved,” Bonner said. “With length of service you can really get to the root of the problem, solve it significantly and hopefully, permanently.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine will seek re-election in November. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) got into politics to get things done. After two terms as the town’s leader, which came after a lengthy career working for the county, the 70-year-old Center Moriches resident says he still has a job to do.

“What gets me up every single morning is that I want to build a better Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “This town can look a lot better than it does. I have a sense of purpose and it drives me every day. While I don’t think my job will ever be complete, I hope to leave more good than bad whenever I leave this office — and I work every day to accomplish that.”

The incumbent supervisor will run for a third full term in Brookhaven in an election this November against challenger Jack Harrington (D), a Stony Brook attorney and political newcomer.

Romaine, the former high school history teacher-turned-county legislator, grew up in Bayport and Central Islip, graduated with history and political science degrees from Adelphi and Long Island universities. He said he devotes any time outside town hall to his two grandchildren. If re-elected, Romaine said he will build on his long list of initiatives to move Brookhaven forward.

“What gets me up every single morning is that I want to build a better Brookhaven.”

— Ed Romaine

Since taking over the position from former Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) after a special election in 2012, Romaine has helped pull the township out of its fiscal crisis to become the only municipality on Long Island to pay off all of its pension debt. For the last two years, Brookhaven has secured a AAA bond rating, the highest designation issued by Standard & Poor’s Financial Services of New York City.

A lifelong advocate for environmental preservation, Romaine consistently pushes for greener, cleaner living across Brookhaven and has been endorsed by the Sierra Club and Long Island Environmental Voters Forum during past campaigns. He also pledged a commitment to the Paris agreement in the wake of the June decision of President Donald Trump (R) to withdraw from the climate change agreement.

“I intend to defend the environment,” Romaine said. “I’m a big open-space guy. I believe in preservation because I do not want to see the wave of development that has swept east to west across this Island continue.”

Under Romaine’s supervision, the town created nitrogen protection zones to preserve local waterways, kick-started a multiyear project to convert all of Brookhaven’s streetlights to LED bulbs, opposed dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound and opposed plans to clear 800 acres of woodlands near the former Shoreham power plant.

In July, the town launched a food scrap composting program at town hall to reduce food waste and use the materials for garden beds around town buildings. Also, more than 100 abandoned homes have been demolished across the hamlets, the supervisor said, in an effort to stamp out eyesores and criminal activity in quaint neighborhoods.

“The thing I like most about this job is you can actually make a difference,” Romaine said, adding that successes are made possible because of a mixed-party town board — four Republicans, one Democrat and one Conservative — that he said votes together 99.9 percent of the time.

He made it clear he works with people of all parties and values common ground.

“It’s less about party affiliations and more about common sense and practicality, and doing what works,” Romaine said. “You’re not coming to put boxing gloves on. You’re coming here to do some heavy lifting and that requires teamwork. I am blessed with six good people who vote together, don’t look to create party differences or personality disputes, which you do see in other towns.”

“His breadth of knowledge is incredibly impressive, and I always learn something when I’m with him.”

— Jane Bonner

High among his Democratic allies is state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was elected into public office on the same day as Romaine nearly 40 years ago. The two have since worked together on countless issues, oftentimes pertaining to preserving the waterways and natural environment of Brookhaven Town and Long Island as a whole.

During a recent interview, Englebright called Romaine “a peacemaker” who can draw people to their commonalities and pays attention to the things that bring people together.

The assemblyman also credited Romaine with serving as a conduit to Republican state Sens. John Flanagan and Ken LaValle, who have taken up the mantle of inviting local leaders from both parties “into the photo,” so to speak.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said all levels of government could learn a lesson from how Romaine leads Brookhaven.

“He eats and sleeps this job,” Bonner said, adding how effective she believes Romaine is. “A board that works as well as we do together benefits the taxpayer. His breadth of knowledge is incredibly impressive, and I always learn something when I’m with him.”

But for all its strength, Romaine said he’s not blind to Brookhaven’s shortcomings and, on a daily basis, asks himself, “What can we do to make this town better?”

He said he wants to dissolve many special districts in the town in order to cut costs and streamline services, push for better treatment and vocational training facilities for struggling drug addicts, and build better public transportation systems.

At the start of Romaine’s career, he taught history in the Hauppauge school district for 10 years and a parochial school in Cedarhurst for two, all the while writing grants for the school district. In 1980, he entered public service and became Brookhaven’s first commissioner of housing and community development before being appointed director of economic development.

Romaine was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature for two terms, in 1985 and 1987, and became Suffolk County clerk in 1989, a post he served for 16 years.

On the side, he took a job at Dowling College teaching managerial economics for seven years, then moved over to teaching history courses at Suffolk County Community College for another seven before landing at Stony Brook University teaching administrative law at the graduate level in 2005 — the same year he was elected again as county legislator of the 1st Legislative District.

“He will, arguably, go down as one of the most effective, approachable and innovative supervisors in the history of this great town.”

— Jesse Garcia

When he was eventually approached by Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee, to throw his hat into the ring for supervisor, Romaine hesitated. He said he loved his job as legislator too much.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Romaine recalled. But it was the memory of his late son, former Brookhaven Councilman Keith Romaine, who died in 2009 from pneumonia-related conditions at age 36, that finally convinced him to pursue the position. “I knew if he had lived, he would have been supervisor. Unfortunately, while it’s usually sons that follow fathers, I did it in reverse.”

He said such personal lows in his life have helped inform how he approaches the position.

“The bottom line is, it’s a very short life,” he said. “I didn’t get into politics to call people names. I got into politics to get something done. This job has a lot of frustrations and I’ll be happy when I leave it, but I’m doing my time here because I still have a sense of purpose.”

Garcia said he’s glad Romaine accepted the job when he did.

“What separates Ed Romaine from the rest is just his ability to not look at challenges but look at solutions that benefit the people of this town,” Garcia said, commending the supervisor on his record of tax control, job growth and bipartisanship. “He will, arguably, go down as one of the most effective, approachable and innovative supervisors in the history of this great town.”

President of the North Shore Community Association Gary Pollakusky, on left, who is running for legislator of the 6th district, with Rocky Point resident Ann Mattarella, who lost her son to drug addiction. The two were at a press conference in Rocky Point letting the public know of upcoming community forums related to drug addiction education. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

As heroin and opiate-related deaths continue to rattle Suffolk County and devastate families, those personally affected are rallying the masses to help them stop the growing drug problem before it starts.

Tracey Farrell, president of North Shore Drug Awareness, talks to Rocky Point residents about the importance of educating youth on the effects and possible results of drug addiction. Photo by Kevin Redding

Residents holding pictures and wearing shirts covered in the names of loved ones who died from heroin, opiate and fentanyl overdoses stood together July 6 as Gary Pollakusky, president of the nonpartisan North Shore Community Association, announced the launch of a series of drug education and awareness-based community forums to be held at local school districts — starting Thursday, July 13, at Rocky Point Middle School. Pollakusky is running for Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker’s (D-Mount Sinai) seat, and has been backed by the Republican

The group, which was formed in 2013 to ensure transparency and advocate for local areas like Mount Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point, has kickstarted the forums alongside advocacy organizations Hugs Inc. and Thomas’ Hope Foundation, individuals in recovery and families and first responders who have witnessed the worsening problem firsthand. Collectively, all involved plan to lay a foundation for bigger and better drug awareness curriculums and assembly programs to be implemented in elementary, middle and high schools.

The mission is to prevent as many first-time users as possible by emphasizing the consequences of drugs to kids while pushing legislators to support stronger enforcement initiatives and treatment options.

Pollakusky said, at this point, the community can no longer rely on action to be taken by elected officials or school administrators.

“The families who have lost loved ones and those who are dealing with the results of this epidemic are outraged at our county government’s lack of action and responsiveness, and are looking to our community to come together to push for more drug awareness education and enforcement … now,” Pollakusky said to a crowd of local residents and first responders at Veterans Memorial Square in Rocky Point.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and president of the non-profits North Shore Drug Awareness and On Kevin’s Wings, knows both sides of the plague, as her son Kevin died of an overdose in 2012, and her daughter Breanna is currently three years in recovery.

“Children … they need to be afraid to ever try it and I don’t understand how they’re watching people die in the multitudes on a daily basis, and [they don’t want to educate].”

— Ann Mattarella

“We have organized this forum so that children and families can get more information on how to overcome this scourge and not feel alone in the battle,” she said. “It is imperative that our educational system consistently works to inform. … We are looking to support our community by having all of the community rise up and deal with this situation head-on.”

She said that while far too many lose their lives to these drugs, there’s hope for those that are still struggling and those who have yet to try anything. She has seen many overcome addiction through her nonprofit On Kevin’s Wings, which helps raise funds for those who can’t afford to get into, or get transportation to rehabilitation centers.

“It’s gotten so much worse, and now more than ever I need for people to use their voices because collectively we can make a difference,” Farrell said. “We need to shout from the rooftops that we need to look out for the next generation of kids. No one right now is willing to step up and we need that to change.”

Farrell said through these forums, she hopes to eventually implement a mandatory curriculum or program across the state, but added while many school districts in the area are on board for this type of serious drug education across the age groups, some parents don’t want to expose it their children to the harsh realities at such a young age.

Rocky Point resident Ann Mattarella, whose 29-year-old son died of an overdose, said she believes the younger the better when it comes to education.

Brian, Lauren and Nick Nardone speak about the loss of their sister and daughter to drug addiction. Photo by Kevin Redding

“There is no question to me that this needs to be brought up at an elementary school level,” Mattarella said, holding a framed collage of photos of her son. “Children need to be afraid to do this — they need to be afraid to ever try it and I don’t understand how they’re watching people die in the multitudes on a daily basis, and [they don’t want to educate]. Something has to be done to scare these children.”

Brian Nardone, a Rocky Point high school student whose sister died in 2008 battling a heroin addiction when he was just 6 years old, said drug education in the classroom is not handled as seriously as it should be.

“They go through it for a week and basically say ‘drugs are bad, don’t do drugs,’ but they don’t really emphasize the consequences of what can happen,” Nardone said, standing alongside his mother, Lauren, and father, Nick. “Frankly, I feel people should be going on the local, state and even national level just to show what’s going on in this country. You don’t know it exists until it happens to you. Ignorance kills.”

Pollakusky said the organization will pursue local small businesses and parent-teacher organizations to help fund an assembly program and hope to get the attention of elected officials and community leaders as their initiative grows.

The first community forum will be held Thursday, July 13, at Rocky Point Middle School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Sarah Anker talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Kevin Redding

As Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) gears up to run a campaign in the hopes of serving the 6th District for a fourth term, two political newcomers — Republicans Gary Pollakusky and Frank Vetro — also each hope to occupy the seat in November.

Anker, who assumed office in 2011 and won her last election by a total 19 votes, said the most important part of running for public office is knowing the community. As someone who’s lived in the area for more than 30 years, she said her experience “literally trumps the [predominantly Republican] political system.”

“I will continue to do my job working for the people and not for the party,”
said Anker, who founded the Community Health and Environmental Coalition, advocated to build Heritage Park in Mount Sinai
and created the Jobs Opportunity Board connecting graduating seniors with local jobs. She has also provided sports safety forums to local schools to prevent deaths and serious injuries among student-athletes, helped reduce county government costs by streamlining services, and takes pride in being heavily involved with civic groups and always being accessible to constituents.

The legislator said she wants to build a stronger economy by revitalizing our communities, sustaining the district’s environment and continuing her work in the prevention and intervention of those addicted to opioids.

“I think I’ve proven myself through my past experience [through] community advocacy and by getting the jobs done,” she said. “I’m here to serve for our quality of life and environmental legacy.”

Gary Pollakusky

Gary Pollakusky

Pollakusky, 41, a Rocky Point resident who served as campaign manager for Anker’s 2015 Republican challenger Steve Tricarico, and recently secured the Republican nomination, said he believes Suffolk County is in the greatest physical crisis it has ever faced in our history.

“After 10 years of Democrat control … we have an opioid problem that is out of control, and gangs and drugs are pushing into our community like they belong here,” he said.

If elected, he said he aims to fix the county’s outstanding debt, eliminate excessive fees, make the area more affordable to its seniors and young people, stamp out the opioid problem and do more to support small businesses.

As the self-starter of Media Barrel LLC, a Rocky Point-based marketing and advertising business that strives to solve problems for companies and various local organizations, Pollakusky said his business experience and community activism will support his candidacy and ultimately his election.

“Beyond the barbecues and concert series are very important issues that need to be addressed,” Pollakusky said. “How are we going to get out of debt? How are we going to inspire companies to stay in Suffolk and on Long Island? This is what I do for a living. I help businesses solve problems by giving them solutions. I will bring business into the county, and work on our debt and balance our budget.”

On his opponent, Pollakusky said while Anker is well meaning, he said he thinks she’s misguided and ineffective.

“I help businesses solve problems by giving them solutions. I will bring business into the county and work on our debt and balance our budget.”

— Gary Pollakusky

“We’re in a pretty sad state,” Pollakusky said. “Not a lot has changed in our county since 2015. You know we’ve hit rock bottom when our county legislator is more concerned with making a pocket park surrounding a boulder than figuring out ways to actually retain the structural deficit. We’re drowning in debt and she wants to sink us with a rock.”

Upon graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor of science degree in industrial labor relations, Pollakusky ran the human resource department of AHL Services before working at Columbia Business School as assistant director of admissions.

Outside of his small business, he said he created the nonpartisan North Shore Community Association in 2013 to tackle community problems through transparency and advocacy, including educational drug forums. He was recently among Long Island Business News’ 40 Under 40 Awards list.

A former resident of Long Beach, Pollakusky and his wife, Jeanine, moved to Rocky Point after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home. He said he loves the hamlet’s close-knit community.

“We love our open space, our beaches, our main street, small-town lives and the people,” he said. “We have such amazing people here that would do anything for their neighbors. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Frank Vetro

Frank Vetro

Vetro, 45, the host of a LI News Radio show, a real estate agent and longtime educator from Miller Place, is currently in the process of gathering petitions to run against Pollakusky in the September primary. He said although he isn’t used to the political world, speaking publicly to residents on the radio for years pushed him to throw his hat in the ring.

“My listeners, after hearing me day in and day out, would always say, ‘Why don’t you run? You should run, you’re passionate, you really care,’” said Vetro, who wants to stamp out county corruption. “I have always fought for underdogs.”

He also discussed keeping the area affordable to those young and old.

“A last straw for me was that me and my family are so close, and a lot of my family is moving off Long Island because of the cost of living and better opportunities elsewhere,” he said. “I’m losing them and I can’t take it anymore — the taxes, the mismanagement, people being in office and leadership positions not on their merit but because they knew somebody. When is enough, enough?”

Vetro said his daily experiences, educating and rehabilitating young gang members and drug addicts, give him an advantage over other politicians.

“I think when you have your finger on the pulse and you’re in the trenches doing it, it gives you a better understanding of what’s going on,” Vetro said.

“A last straw for me was that me and my family are so close, and a lot of my family is moving off Long Island because of the cost of living.”

— Frank Vetro

As a principal at Hope House Ministries School, Vetro said he works with youth in great crisis, some of whom have been kicked out of school, and he helps them get reacclimated to a “normal” life. He said working with recovering addicts puts him in close quarters to what he sees as a major problem in New York.

“My body of work sits hand in hand with what’s going on on Long Island,” he said of the opioid crisis.

His job as a realtor, he added, gives him hands-on knowledge of the housing market.

In 2006, while principal of Hampton Bays High School, Vetro was arrested for alleged phone harassment of several women. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges, which were later reduced to violations. Ever since, he has been fighting corruption in the court system and rebuilding his life, and even wrote a book last year called “Standing on Principal,” detailing his arrest and injustices he faced.

“I know about Suffolk County corruption better than anybody and what I do to help people and what I stand for … I really, in my heart, believe that I’m the most qualified,” he said.

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People at an anti-drug forum stay afterward to learn how to use the anti-overdose medication Narcan. Above, someone practices spraying into a dummy’s nostrils. Photo by Elana Glowatz

We’ve been hit with some staggering figures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse, the highest number on record. Last year alone Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses. Suffolk tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

Although local and national initiatives have come from all different angles to try to combat the rise in heroin and opioid abuse, we think lawmakers lack focus.

Most recently, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) endorsed a large legislation package that would review and update guidelines for prescribing opioids and pain medication and require a report to Congress on the availability of substance abuse treatment in the country, among many other provisions. While we applaud any earnest effort to combat the widespread problem, there needs to be more focus from one specific angle: prevention.

With treatment and recovery options across the North Shore and with the rate at which the county is now taking down drug dealers, enforcement and rehabilitation are not our biggest problems. Instead, more needs to be done to deter kids from ever considering to try drugs in the first place. While some schools have begun to work on this, working with police to hold Narcan training sessions and informational forums, students should be seeing more than just numbers and figures, police officers or counselors.

Tracey Budd, of Rocky Point, helped Suffolk County create a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that has been shown in schools. Budd lost her son to a heroin overdose and her message is powerful. Kids need to see the struggles that addicts and their families go through to help hammer home how dangerous drugs are.

We also urge parents to be more aware and involved. You know your child — look, listen and ask questions. There are signs in mood, behavior, habit and appearance that could warn you that there’s a serious problem. And don’t be afraid to set boundaries or to talk both about drugs and other topics that may seem difficult or awkward. Many people are drawn to drugs because of an underlying emotional issue, but letting a teenager know that nonjudgmental ears are listening could be a solution.

Frederick Douglass once famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Building those stronger children is how we should tackle our country’s growing drug problem.

Shop employee Alex Patel said he’s seen 10 parents purchase vaporizers or accessories from the Rocky Point Smoke & Vape shop. Photo by Giselle Barkley

During last week’s Rocky Point Drug Forum, Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) announced her new step to combat drug use, with a ban regarding hookah lounges and smoke and vape shops in Brookhaven Town.

If the town approves and implements the councilwoman’s proposal, prospective shop owners cannot establish their businesses within 1,000 feet of family- or child-oriented institutions or various public places. These locations include educational and religious facilities; non-degree granting schools, like ballet and karate studios; and swimming pools. The ban won’t apply to existing lounges and shops that have proper permits and certificates of occupancy.

The idea isn’t simply to deter students from purchasing items from the store, but also to prevent them from using these devices, or similar items, to smoke drugs like marijuana. During last week’s forum, John Venza, vice president of Adolescent Services for Outreach, said some vaporizers can accommodate various forms of marijuana including dabs, a wax-like form of the drug that has higher levels of THC.

According to Venza, marketing has also changed over the years to appeal to a younger audience. Bonner not only agreed with Venza, but went a step further.

“We all know that those attractive signs that lure the kids in are the very same reason the government banned Camel advertising,” Bonner said during last week’s forum. She added that parents need to keep a closer eye on their kids by observing their social media accounts, going through their phones and having family dinners.

Jane-Bonner-Rocky-Point-Drug_2016_02_barkleyw
Councilwoman Jane Bonner announces her proposed ban at the Rocky Point Drug Forum last week. Photo by Giselle Barkley

For the Rocky Point school district and community alike, fighting substance abuse is a top priority. But according to Rocky Point Superintendent of Schools Michael Ring, the fight is an uphill battle with new devices on the market.

“One of the things that works against us is the emerging technology that makes it easier for students to be brought in and grow that into abuse,” Ring said.

But Rocky Point Smoke & Vape Shop employee Alex Patel said the ban might be a good idea with little reward. According to the Rocky Point resident and father of two, parents have purchased vaporizers and accessories for their children. Patel said the shop isn’t legally allowed to sell to residents who are under 21 years old, but this isn’t the only way students are acquiring the devices.

“Online, I see people buying left and right,” Patel said about vaporizers and similar devices. “It’s much cheaper online because they’re buying in bulk. So what they’re paying in the store $50, online, they can get it for $20.”

He added that it’s also easier for students to purchase these items online because these sites don’t verify the buyer’s age. In light of this, Patel continued saying the proposed ban won’t stop these underage residents from finding what they’re looking for.

North Shore Youth Council Executive Director Janene Gentile said she hasn’t seen an increase in these shops near her organization, but said the youth council works “with the legislators around holding the pharmaceutical companies accountable” as well.

“I believe in this bill,” Gentile added.

Residents can voice their opinions regarding the ban at the May 12 public hearing at 6 p.m. in Brookhaven Town Hall.

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