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Trotta and Singer review the Ccounty's issues during a recent debate.

The Times of Smithtown circulation area includes two Suffolk County legislative districts: 12 and 13. The 12th District encompasses Nesconset and Lake Grove and extends west through portions of St. James into Commack. The 13th District extends from Fort Salonga east to St. James. 

Currently, two Republicans represent the areas, Leslie Kennedy and Robert Trotta, respectively. Overall, the Democrats with an 11-7 ratio, have a majority rule in the county, as it has for the last 13 years. Republicans held the majority for 33 years prior to that. 

Many analysts say that this year’s election could potentially see a shift in power or perhaps tie the representation. So a lot is at stake.

District 13: Parts of Smithtown and St. James, Fort Salonga, San Remo, Kings Park, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor, Commack and East Northport 

By Leah Chiappino

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R) is running for reelection. He has represented Suffolk’s 13th District since 2013. Jan Singer (D), a retired matrimonial lawyer, is challenging him for the seat in this year’s election. 

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police officer for 25 years and FBI agent for 10 years, said his priorities include addressing high taxes, wasteful spending and weeding out county corruption. 

Serving under a corrupt police chief, he said, prompted him to run for office six years ago. “I knew how corrupt the county was and I knew if I didn’t leave, I would get arrested, get in trouble, or die,” he said. “Of the three of us that were on the FBI task force, one is dead, one got arrested and I became a legislator.”

Personally, Trotta said that he has refused any campaign contributions from any person or organization that does business with the county. He supports legislation that would prevent lawmakers from voting on union contracts, if the union has contributed to a legislator’s campaign. Overall, these practices, he expects, would save money and prevent conflicts of interest. 

“Everything comes from wasteful spending and corrupt politicians taking too much money,” he said.

 Singer said her leadership experience will help to make needed changes for Suffolk. She operated a private law practice for over 30 years before retiring in 2012.  She’s organized phone banks for Perry Gershon (D) and Hillary Clinton (D), served as president of her homeowner association, and sat on the board of the Suffolk County Girl Scouts and the Smithtown Democratic Committee. If elected, Singer’s priorities include addressing Suffolk County’s water quality issues. 

 “If we don’t have quality water, free of nitrogen, 1-4-dioxane, and chemical pollution, we can’t have anything,” she said. “We can’t have the economic development which is so necessary to making Suffolk County thrive, because businesses will not open and people will not buy homes.”

To address water quality, Trotta supports reallocating the county’s one-quarter percent (0.25) sales tax income for its Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, so more general fund money is dedicated to protecting the county’s water. 

Singer’s position to address climate change includes support for renewable energy initiatives such as wind turbines and solar energy and an increase in public transportation.

A major concern for both candidates is the county’s budget problems. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) monitors fiscal stress for the state’s municipalities.  Suffolk County, according to the latest report, tops the list as the worst fiscal condition out of all counties. 

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the debt we are putting on our children,” Trotta said.

He blames the county budget troubles on overspending. Government contracting, he said, should be more deeply scrutinized. Personnel costs and expenses, such as police overtime, large pensions and pay increases need to be reined in. As a former police officer, he says he understands the vital work the police do. 

“I’m not saying they don’t deserve their money, but they don’t deserve to bankrupt the country and make it unaffordable for people to live here,” he said. 

Singer takes a different stance.

“The police are the ones that run into danger when I run away,” she said. “They are the ones dealing with the opioid crisis and MS-13. If you go to doors, I have not heard people screaming about overtime and excess pay for the police. They want them there.”

To address the issue, Trotta prefers raising revenue through taxes, instead of hitting people with expenses such as mortgage filing fees, which recently jumped from $65 to $600. The fee is paid not only when people buy a home but also when they refinance their mortgage.

Singer is not for eliminating these fees.

“I’m not debating whether or not some of the fees such as the mortgage recording fees are too high, but I don’t disagree with the principle of having it because the alternative is to either discontinue the service, run the service at a reduced level, or raise taxes,” she said. 

Both candidates see the opioid crisis as a critical issue. Singer proposes expanding education prevention services and supports an effort to expand medically assisted therapy and rehab programs in prisons. Any settlement funds that the county receives from its lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, Singer said, should be used for treatment and education. 

Trotta says the county “cannot arrest its way out” of the problem, noting that many people addicted to opioids also suffer from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. He supports “treatment and a variety of different methods” to curb the issue.  

With regard to the red-light camera ticketing program, Trotta calls it a money grab that causes more accidents than it prevents. He thinks it should be eliminated. 

A study conducted by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates and released earlier this year, stated that accidents were up 60 percent since the program’s implementation, though accidents involving injuries went down by 11 percent.

“If someone runs a red light and it’s dangerous, they should get a ticket period,” Trotta said. “Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here.”

Singer supports continuing the program.

“It is about safety,” she said. “The vehicle and traffic law says you can’t run that red light.

Singer and Trotta both support the revitalization of Kings Park, and both agree that the community should retain its small-town feel. 

Defense was the story of the game Oct. 19 when Centereach senior Matt Robbert broke the ice when he punched in on short yardage for the touchdown midway through the second quarter. Robbert then kicked an extra point to make it 7-0.

Smithtown East struggled offensively, and it wasn’t until junior running back Tyler Pohlman punched in on a short run for the Bulls with under two minutes left. Needing the extra point to retie the game, the kick was partially blocked and the Cougars held on for a 7-6 win, dampening the Bulls’ homecoming celebration.

Eric Harrington got the call time and time again grinding out 107 yards on 20 carries for the Cougars, while Robbert gained 55 yards in 10 attempts.

The win lifts Centereach to 3-3 who hit the road against Connetquot Oct. 25 before returning home to face Half Hollow Hills East Nov. 1.

Smithtown East slips to 2-4 and must win out against Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 26 and Northport Nov. 2 for any hopes of postseason play.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

By Barbara Beltrami

I think carrots may well be one of the top unsung heroes of the American pantry. Could it be because when we were kids we were admonished to eat our carrots so we could see in the dark? Or because they were accompaniments to the peas that we had to eat or we wouldn’t get dessert? Even cookbooks don’t give much attention to carrots. OK, so they’re not one of those veggies that have come into popularity after prior obscurity. But for me, the carrots are the best part of a pot roast gravy. They’re great with fresh herbs, lemon and butter. Never mind carrot-ginger soup; try cream of carrot soup. And who doesn’t like carrot cake? They’re the golden veggie.

Carrots with Fresh Dill, Lemon and Butter

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fresh carrots, trimmed and peeled

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

½ stick unsalted butter

Freshly squeezed juice of half a small lemon

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

DIRECTIONS:

Cut carrots into half-inch diagonal slices; sprinkle with salt and pepper; steam until tender, but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Melt butter; in small bowl combine with lemon juice and dill. Place carrots in a serving dish and toss with butter mixture. Serve with meat, poultry or fish.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

3 cups flour

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1½ cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

11/3 cups chopped walnuts

1½ cups shredded zucchini

2 cups pureed cooked carrots

½ pound softened cream cheese

6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Dash vanilla extract

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

DIRECTIONS:

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round layer cake pans with waxed paper, then grease with butter. In a large bowl sift dry ingredients; add oil and eggs; beat well; then stir in walnuts, zucchini and carrots. Pour into prepared pans; place on middle rack of oven and bake about half an hour, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks; when cool, transfer to cake plate and frost.

For the frosting: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter; sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until thoroughly incorporated and smooth. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice. Spread between layers, on sides and top of cake. Serve with coffee, tea or milk.

Cream of Carrot Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 pound carrots, cleaned and peeled

½ cup half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot melt the butter in the olive oil. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring halfway through, until onion is transparent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add broth, water and carrots, and over high heat bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until carrots are very tender, about 30 minutes. In bowl of food processor, puree carrots in small batches, if necessary; return them to liquid, stir to combine thoroughly and transfer back to pot; stir in half-and-half and salt and pepper over low heat until mixture is just hot but not boiling; ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with a well-chilled sauvignon blanc.

Birds are known as indicator species: they tell us if things are alright in the ecosystem. Photo above: A male rose-breasted grosbeak rests in a tulip tree. Photo by Luci Betti-Nash

A new study in the Sept. 20 issue of Science has found that in the United States and Canada bird populations have fallen a staggering 29 percent since 1970.

Such a dramatic drop has scientists concerned that the decline could be a sign of an ecosystem collapse. Habitat loss is considered a prime culprit. 

Huntington resident Coby Klein understands the big picture. He’s an ecology professor at Baruch College and a guide with the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society.

“If the arctic continues to become warmer and drier, it will cause larger and more frequent fires,” he said. “Fires kill birds and destroy nesting habitats and drive down populations of sandpipers, gulls, terns, waterfowl and birds of prey that migrate through or winter on Long Island.”

The best thing people can do, if you really have an interest in protecting birds and the environment, he said, is to vote.

Otherwise, the Audubon Society is committed to transforming communities back into places where birds flourish. Sterile lawns, ornamental species, pesticides and herbicides mean that on a local level, the landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems.

Klein himself said that he lives on a postage-stamp-sized lot and the only native plant that thrives in his yard is poison ivy. But he notes that the Audubon Society is sponsoring a campaign called Creating Bird-Friendly Communities. The program is designed to educate the public on what they can do to help reverse the damage done and revive disappearing bird populations.

Growing native plants is a key component to re-establishing the ecological functions of cities and towns, according to the society and its experts. And they say the concept is easier on the back and wallet.

To flourish, birds need (a) plenty of food, (b) shelter where they can rest, (c) clean water to drink and bath in and (d) safe places to raise their young. Native plants and the insects that co-evolved around them are vital to a healthy system. The more native plants, the Audubon emphasizes, the more food and shelter. More bugs, caterpillars and seed pods on more public and private land is part of the solution.

The Audubon’s Native Plants Database, which is on its website, suggests plants according to ZIP code. The choices were hand-selected by local experts and include information about the birds and creatures it benefits. Serviceberry, for example, is recommended for Long Island’s North Shore communities. The small, shrublike tree with dense branching produces white flowers in the spring followed by red, purple or black berries. It attracts butterflies and caterpillars, as well as warblers and woodpeckers and about nine other types of birds. The database can be a good first place to explore landscape options.

The Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s website is another good resource. The local nonprofit gathers wild seeds and makes  native plants commercially available. It also grows and sells the native plant species to local nurseries to increase availability. Polly Weigand, the executive director, recommends requesting native plants from your favorite garden center to increase demand. It’s goal is to reach more businesses in the nursery industry. Once people get into the habit of  providing suitable habitats, birds become less vulnerable and are potentially more capable of adapting to climate conditions, according to the Audubon.

Native gardens, experts agree, are also relatively maintenance free and require little to no special irrigation system or fertilizers or toxic chemicals.  So, it saves time and money and is a  healthier option for people in the long run.

This fall consider practicing less drastic and costly yard cleanup. The Audubon recommends leaving the seed heads of perennials in the garden and skipping the raking. Leaf litter, they say, is free fertilizer, and a good place for birds to forage for worms and other critters. If tree limbs fall, they say, consider building a brush pile that will provide birds with shelter from the wind and predators. Branches settle and decompose over the seasons and make room for the next year’s contributions.

Plant asters and woody shrubs like bayberry and winterberry this fall.  The waxy fruit of bayberry provides an important source of energy to migrating birds. Evergreens, too, like cedars, firs and holly, provide shelter and something for birds to eat in winter. In general, milkweed, goldenrod and sunflowers are important plants for the rest of the year.

“When you plant native species in your home landscapes it’s a protective way of ensuring that invasive ornamental species seeds don’t spread and dominate the rest of Long Island’s landscape,” said Weigand.  

Overall, the objective is to lose some lawn, or create pathways through it, and create habitat layers. Tall canopy trees produce nuts and provide nest cavities for shelter. Shrubs and small trees throw fruit for bird food and herbaceous plants supply seeds and a habitat for pollinators. Decaying leaves produce the base of all habitats. It also happens to be where moth pupae live, a favorite food of baby birds.

Start small, the Audubon states, and cluster plants in groupings of five or more of the same species. Pollinators, they say, prefer to feed from masses of the same flower. And remember to include a birdbath or hollowed out rock where rainwater collects, so birds have a supply of fresh water.

In the end, you’ve created a backyard sanctuary and a sure method for healthy, sustainable living. 

Paule Pachter stands on the roof of the Harry Chapin Food Bank in front of a community solar array that will energize households facing hardships.

Long Island Cares — one of Long Island’s well-known charitable institutions — is completing the installation of solar panels on the 35,000 square-foot roof of its headquarters at Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.

The $414,000 project is expected to generate 350,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually and 100 percent of it will be directed off-site to serve the electrical needs of households experiencing hardship and food insecurity. Long Island Cares is paying for system out of its reserves and available funds in its budget. 

“This solar project represents a direct extension of the humanitarian work of Long Island Cares,” said Paule Pachter, the organization’s CEO. “Part of Long Island Cares’ energy focuses on providing emergency food relief to hungry and food insecure Long Islanders through the Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank. But we also engage in direct service programs that address the humanitarian human needs of veterans, seniors, immigrants and others struggling with economic and social challenges.” 

The project is one of the first initiatives that are expected to help the industrial park meet by 2040 New York State’s ambitious goal of converting to 100 percent renewable energy. 

The power pass along is facilitated through an energy management practice called “community solar,” whereby electricity generated by a solar power installation is shared by multiple households, companies or institutions. It’s an initiative of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, a prominent Long Island business group, and its solar task force, which was launched last year.

Co-chairs Scott Maskin, CEO of SUNation Solar Systems, one of Long Island’s largest installers of solar panels and equipment, and Jack Kulka, president and founder of Kulka LLC, a major development and construction firm, are behind the initiative. 

“By taking the entire energy output of our solar installation and sending it off-site to provide discounted power to homes occupied by our lower-income neighbors, these households will have new found income to address some of their immediate needs,” Maskin said. “As such, it has a unique opportunity to bring forward both technology and value in a substantial way. From an energy perspective, the park can act as a responsible, shining example for all of Long Island.” 

Long Island Innovation Park, formerly known as the Hauppauge Industrial Park, is the second largest industrial center in the United States after California’s Silicon Valley, and the largest in the Northeast corridor. The park is recognized as a major driver of the region’s economy and is a focus of the regional development plan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

“Through the successful embrace of this program,” Maskin added, “our park can distinguish itself as Long Island’s single largest energy producer, delivering revenue to its building owners while helping achieve New York State’s renewable energy goals. It’s a win-win all around.” 

The Long Island Cares project is expecting to be up and running in October, but Pachter said that the project has recently encountered several obstacles.

“When PSEG inspected our site, they said that the transformer needs to be changed and wiring upgraded to handle the energy,” he said. 

Maskin said in a telephone interview that the issues are relatively common and protection equipment upgrades are something that will need be addressed as the industrial park  expands its renewable projects. The transformer, he noted, will be covered by a maintenance agreement it has for this specific project.  The additional $11,000 wiring cost, Pachter said, will be the responsibility of L.I. Cares.

“We are building a power plant on the rooftop,” Maskin said. “If you think of the complexity of it all, delays are to be expected. We’re still pushing to have the system up and running in October.”

Pachter said that the construction phase has been underway for the last few months. 

PSEGLI representative Elizabeth Flagler said that Community Distributed Generation makes renewable energy, particularly solar, more accessible to renters and apartment dwellers. The array, she said, is connected to the grid and managed by a host who serves as a liaison with PSEGLI. The pass through is accomplished through accounting, rather than through wiring a system to beneficiaries. 

The project is the first community solar project in the industrial complex.

Apple Nut Loaf

By Barbara Beltrami

Veggies and fruits and flowers piled in pyramids and spilling out of bushel baskets, their perfumes rewarding summer’s work and heralding its end, holding on to summer and portending autumn turn me into a kid in a candy shop.

I know that when I talk about farm stands I tend to wax rhapsodic. I can’t help it. When I am anywhere that I can pick up the scent of ripe tomatoes ready for slicing or saucing; anywhere that I can indulge myself in bright bouquets of zinnias, asters, mums, Montauk daisies, statice and sunflowers; anywhere I can grab bunches of beets, kohlrabi, broccoli, eggplants, beans, squash, cucumbers, corn and peppers for pickling; anywhere I can get pears, peaches,plums, apples and quinces for pies and preserves, I get out of control.

I bring them home, arrange them in bowls and baskets because I love to look at them and also because refrigeration steals much of their flavor and texture. So I use them up quickly while they’re at their peak. Some I just wash and eat raw; others get sauteed, steamed, grilled or baked; and still others become soups, stews, sauces and relishes, chutneys, cakes and compotes to freeze or preserve and savor while Mother Earth sleeps and we dream our winter dreams.

Eggplant Caviar

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds eggplant

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Coarse salt and black pepper to taste

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

10 fresh plum tomatoes; peeled, seeded and juiced

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise; score their cut surfaces with a sharp knife; place on cookie sheet, cut side up, 25 minutes or until pulp is very soft; set aside to cool. With a spoon scoop out pulp and drain in a mesh drainer 15 minutes. Reserve half of eggplant skin, then cut into large pieces; puree with garlic and basil in food processor; add drained eggplant pulp, salt and pepper and half the oil; pulse a few times to combine and form a coarse puree; transfer to serving bowl and chill well. Puree tomato pulp and juice with remaining one-quarter cup oil and salt and pepper to taste; place in small bowl as accompaniment to eggplant. Serve the same day with toasted Italian bread and extra virgin olive oil.

Apple Nut Loaf

Apple Nut Loaf

 

YIELD: Makes one loaf.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups peeled, cored chopped apples

2 tablespoons boiling water

1 teaspoon plus one small pinch of salt

2 cups flour

¾ cup sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place apple slices in a small heavy saucepan with the water and pinch of salt; simmer until apples are tender but not mushy; puree and set aside to cool. In a large bowl thoroughly combine the remaining teaspoon salt, flour, the ¾ cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon; stir in walnuts. In medium bowl combine pureed apples with oil and egg; stir into dry mixture just enough to moisten. Turn into a greased 9- × 5- × 3-inch loaf pan, sprinkle top surface with the tablespoon sugar and bake one hour or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Serve slightly warm with butter or apple butter.

Lizzie’s Corn Relish

Corn Relish

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 pints.

INGREDIENTS:

12 ears fresh corn

10 cups chopped green cabbage

3 yellow or red bell peppers, chopped

3 onions, chopped

8 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup mustard seeds

DIRECTIONS:

Remove kernels from ears of corn; separate any that stick together. In a very large nonreactive pot combine all ingredients; bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized pint jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 15 to 20  minutes. With rubber-tipped tongs remove jars from bath and set aside to cool. Check that all jars have sealed; refrigerate any that have not sealed within 12 hours and use as soon as possible. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark dry place until ready to serve with meat, poultry or fish.

Suffolk County Police Department conducted a two-week undercover sting operation on businesses that were illegally selling vaping products to minors. TBR News Media file photo

As part of a two-week undercover sting operation dubbed “Operation Vape Out,” Suffolk Police found that more than two dozen business had been illegally selling e-cigarettes and tobacco to individuals under 21.

The operation, which occurred from Sept. 4 through Sept. 18. It resulted in 32 violations issued to employees of those businesses.

“After years of a steady decline in nicotine addiction and cigarette sales, the introduction of vaporizers has reversed this positive trend so that nicotine addiction is once again on the rise,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone (D). “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Suffolk County. In a coordinated effort with the Suffolk County Police Department and the Department of Health, a sting operation uncovered 30 establishments that allegedly sold these products to minors and arrests have been made.”

In 2014, 73 percent of high school students and 56 percent of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some local businesses that were charged with the sale of e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine to persons under 21 were:

  • VaporFi, located at 229B Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset
  • Aroma Smoke Shop, 6 East Main St., Smithtown
  • Island Wood Cigars and Vapors, located at 298 Maple Ave., Smithtown
  • James Vape Shop, located at 448 Lake Ave., Saint James

The following businesses were charged with unlawfully dealing with a child 2nddegree:

  • 76 Gas, located at 1714 New York Ave., Huntington Station
  • The Barn, located at 2020 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport
  • Hemp Clouds , located at 1515 Route 25, Selden
  • Hookah City, located at 202 Main St., Port Jefferson

“The department will continue to target the issue of vaping with increased education and enforcement efforts,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. “We urge businesses to check IDs when selling vape products and abide by the ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes because we will continue to check for compliance.”

In addition, Bellone announced the expansion of the Health Department’s vaping prevention and intervention program, known as VAPE OUT!, by adding community youth vaping cessation classes. The program also includes peer and parent education forums and alternatives to suspension enforcement programs.

Over 200 high school students were trained as peer educators and they presented VAPE OUT! to over 1,840 middle school students, Bellone said in a statement.

 

The Centereach Cougars looked to notch their second win of the early season in a Division I field hockey matchup on the road against Patchogue-Medford. The Cougars struggled offensively as they were unable to find the box falling to the Raiders, 2-0.

Centereach senior goal keep Amanda Prevete had four saves in net. The loss drops the Cougars to 1-3 in the division, 1-4 overall.

Centereach retakes the field Sept. 20 where they’ll travel to Ward Melville to face the powerhouse Patriots. Game time is 4:15 p.m.

The use of Narcan is demonstrated on a dummy during a training class. File photo by Elana Glowatz

At Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, a new generation of doctors and dentists are involved in a novel approach to managing the opioid epidemic. The training includes instruction from reformed narcotic users, who act as teachers.

A 25-year-old woman recently explained to the first-year students how she became addicted to opioids at the age of 15, when a friend came over with Vicodin prescribed by a dentist after a tooth extraction.

Addiction, she said, is like having a deep itch inside that desperately needs to be scratched.

“There was nothing that could stand between me and getting high,” said the young woman, who wants to remain anonymous. “Most of the time it was my only goal for the day. At $40 a pill, I quickly switched to heroin which costs $10.” 

The university’s Assistant Dean for Clinical Education Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, who helped coordinate the session, said that “patients as teachers” is widely practiced in medical education. This is the first year reformed narcotic users are participating in the program.

“People’s stories will stick with these medical students for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Seeing such an articulate woman describe her experiences was impactful.”

Gerard Fischer, a doctor of dental surgery candidate from St. James, took part in the patient-as-teacher session on narcotics.

“You learn empathy, a quality people want to see in someone practicing medicine,“ Fischer said. “People don’t choose to become addicted to narcotics. So, you want to understand.”

After working in dental offices over the last several years, he’s noticed that habits for prescribing painkillers are changing.

“Dental pain is notoriously uncomfortable because it’s in your face and head,” he said. “No one wants a patient to suffer.” Pain management, though, requires walking a fine line, he added, saying, “Patient awareness is increasing, so many of them now prefer to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen rather than a prescription narcotic, which could be a reasonable approach.”

Hearing the young woman tell her story, he said, will undoubtedly influence his decision-making when he becomes a practicing dentist. 

An estimated 180 medical and dental students attended the training last month. Overall, Strano-Paul said she’s getting positive feedback from the medical students about the session. 

The woman who overcame addiction and shared her insights with the medical professionals, also found the experience rewarding. 

We respect her request to remain anonymous and are grateful that she has decided to share her story with TBR News Media. For the rest of this article, we shall refer to her as “Claire.” 

Faith, hope and charity

“I told the doctors that recovery has nothing to do with science,” Claire said. “They just looked at me.”

Claire was addicted to drugs and alcohol for seven years and went to rehab 10 times over the course of five years. 

“I did some crazy things, I jumped out of a car while it was moving,” Claire said, shaking her head in profound disbelief.

She leapt from the vehicle, she said, the moment she learned that her family was on their way to a rehab facility. Fortunately, she was unharmed and has now been off pain pills and drugs for close to six years. She no longer drinks alcohol.

“Yes, it is possible to recover from addiction,” Claire said. 

People with addiction issues feel empty inside, Claire explained, while gently planting her fist in her sternum. She said that once her counselor convinced her to pray for help and guidance, she was able to recover.

“Somehow praying opens you up,” she said. 

Claire was raised Catholic and attended Catholic high school but says that she’s not a religious person. 

“I said to my counselor, “How do I pray, if I don’t believe or know if there’s a God?” 

She came to terms with her spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. She now prays regularly. Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step regimen, first published in 1939 in the post-Depression era, outlines coping strategies for better managing life. Claire swears by the “big book,” as it’s commonly called. She carefully read the first 165 pages with a counselor and has highlighted passages that taught her how to overcome addictions to opioids and alcohol. Being honest, foregoing selfishness, praying regularly and finding ways to help others have become reliable sources of her strength.

Spirituality is the common thread Claire finds among the many people she now knows who have recovered from addiction.

The traditional methods of Alcohol Anonymous are helping people overcome addiction to opioids.

Medication-assisted therapy

Personally, Claire recommends abstinence over treating addiction medically with prescription drugs such as buprenorphine. The drug, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration since 2002, is a slow-release opioid that suppresses symptoms of withdrawal. When combined with behavior therapy, the federal government recommends it as treatment for addiction. Medication alone, though, is not viewed as sufficient. The ultimate goal of medication-assisted therapy, as described on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website on the topic, is a holistic approach to full recovery, which includes the ability to live a self-directed life.

“Medication-assisted therapy should not be discounted,” Strano-Paul said. “It improves the outcome and enables people to hold jobs and addresses criminal behavior tendencies.”

While the assistant dean is not involved with that aspect of the curriculum, the topic is covered somewhat in the clerkship phase of medical education during sessions on pain management and when medical students are involved in more advanced work in the medical training, she said. 

The field, though, is specialized.

The federal government requires additional certification before a medical practitioner can prescribe buprenorphine. Once certified, doctors and their medical offices are further restricted to initially prescribe the medicine to only 30 patients annually. Critics say no other medications have government-mandated patient limits on lifesaving treatment. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, considers the therapy to be “misunderstood” and “greatly underused.” 

In New York state, 111,391 medical practitioners are registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe opioids and narcotics. Only 6,908 New York practitioners to date are permitted to prescribe opioids for addiction treatment as at Aug. 31.

Strano-Paul for instance, pointed out that she can prescribe opioids, but is prohibited from prescribing the opioid-based drug used for addiction therapy. 

The narcotics education program is still evolving, Strano-Paul said. 

New medical student training now also includes certification for Narcan, the nasal spray antidote that revives opioid overdose victims. 

“It saves lives,” Strano-Paul said. 

In Suffolk County in 2017, 424 people died from an opioid overdose, which was 41 percent higher than the state average, according to a study titled “The Staggering Cost of Long Island’s Opioid Crisis.” The county is aware of 238 potentially lifesaving overdose reversals as of June 30 attributed to Narcan this year alone. Since 2012, Narcan has helped to save the lives of 3,864 people in the county. 

As for Claire, now a mother, she delivered her children through C-section. In the hospital, she was offered prescription opioids for pain. 

“No one will ever see me again, if you give me those pills,” she said.                

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On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

On Sept. 11, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law S.5898, legislation to ensure parity in disability benefits coverage for 9/11 first responders. The law, originally introduced in May 2019 by New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), will provide disability benefits coverage to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero and eliminates the disparity in coverage between uniformed and nonuniformed workers. 

State Department of Environmental Conservation employee Tim DeMeo, who had called himself one of the “forgotten responders,” said that he finally has peace of mind. He arrived at the scene on 9/11 just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and was pancaked. For four months, he worked on removing hazardous waste from the site. Today the Glen Head resident suffers from respiratory ailments and has undergone multiple surgeries and continues to require more.

“Eighteen years ago, I responded to Ground Zero alongside firefighters, police officers and others to the horrors unfolding at Ground Zero. Now today, we share many of the same health issues,” DeMeo said. “The new law will help ensure that my family’s future is secure.”

The new law will establish public workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers, are eligible for the same 75 percent disability benefit coverage as those they worked side-by-side with in the post-9/11 recovery. Hundreds of employees who suffer from serious, terminal or debilitating medical conditions were previously unable to retire as a result of staggering medical costs. 

It took nine months to clean up Lower Manhattan, which was contaminated with toxic substances including dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, asbestos, pulverized cement, fiberglass and steel. In the years following cleanup, responders found themselves afflicted with respiratory problems, gastroesophageal diseases, onset asbestos-related musculoskeletal illnesses and cancers. Since they are not technically classified as uniformed employees, these men and women previously lost out on significant disability benefits that could have helped them to avoid financial difficulties, Gaughran’s office stated in a press release. In the past, if workers were forced to retire because their medical condition prohibited them from working, most only received one-third pension benefit. 

Nesconset resident John Feal, president and founder of the FealGood Foundation, said the law’s passage is long overdue. 

“I went to Washington to demand that our government fully fund the Victims Compensation Fund,” he said. “We won that fight. Now we are making real progress in our city and state on how we support our first responders who ran willingly into disaster on 9/11. Eighteen years later, we finally have guaranteed unlimited sick leave and easier access to disability benefits for 9/11 first responders, though it never should have taken so long.”

Feal, a demolition supervisor, lost half of his left foot at Ground Zero when a falling steel beam crushed it. He thanks those who advocated tirelessly on behalf of their fellow first responders, as well as the elected officials who sponsored this legislation. 

State union Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence shared the sentiment. 

“PEF is proud to support this law that corrects the injustice suffered by some state employees who were not given the same benefit as those with whom they worked alongside,” Spence said. “A person’s date of hire or bargaining unit should not determine the benefit they received for work they provided after the terrorist attacks.”

The bill was also sponsored by Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Holliswood, Queens) and was supported by District Council 37 AFSCME, New York City’s largest municipal employee union. Gaughran has previously said at the close of the 2019 legislative session that the bill was one that he was most proud.