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Opioids

Kara Hahn in 2017 Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fifth two-year term Nov. 5. Her Republican challenger, John McCormack, of Port Jefferson, is not actively campaigning and was not available for a debate with Hahn at the TBR News Media offices. Therefore, the legislator answered a few questions during a phone interview.

County finances

After receiving the county’s Office of Budget Review’s recent report, she said that even though there are still stresses on the budget, Suffolk is in a better place than it has been in past years.

The legislator said the proposed 2020 operating budget has no new fees and there is no pension amortization for the second straight year. The budget came in $4.8 million under the property tax cap.

“Of course, we’re overly reliant on the sales tax revenue and that was so low for so long, and we’re coming out of that,” she said. “When you are reliant on taxpayer dollars, you always feel pressured to be as tight as you can be, and you want to cut costs at every corner and, of course, we’re doing that.”

Hahn said she is aware that due to the county being reliant on sales tax, from which Suffolk receives approximately $1.6 billion, if a recession hits the county is not properly prepared.

She said a slight increase of the 3 percent hotel/motel tax, which is one of the lowest in the country, would help the budget and at the same time not deter anyone from visiting the area.

When it comes to stimulating the economy, she said it’s important to stay vigilant in the collection of sales tax. It was also helpful that the state allowed Suffolk to collect internet sales tax in 2019, she said, which generated about $10 million additional sales revenue this year and is expected to be $20 million in 2020. She said Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, which oversees Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, paid off its debt, and its revenue will contribute $25 million to the county budget in 2020.

“We’ve been getting some good revenue sources that have helped to take the pressure off and that’s important,” Hahn said.

Low-nitrogen septic systems

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, has supported the rollout of new low-nitrogen septic systems in the county. The wastewater nitrogen content has a mandated maximum of 19 milligrams per liter.

“This is a long-term, multidecade effort as 360,000 residences are unsewered,” she said. “These homes have to either become sewered or get a new innovative on-site alternate wastewater system. That cannot happen in one year. That cannot happen in 10 years.”

She said to help with the rollout the county has created priority zones, including the Town of Brookhaven’s initiative where new construction within 500 feet of a waterway is required to install the systems. Grants, on both the county and state levels, have been made available for homeowners who choose to replace their cesspools with the new system.

She said it took years for the county’s health department to work on establishing the program to ensure the new systems would work as promised, adding the process for the program also included working with health and science experts along with those who work in the industry. She said she is proud of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for sticking with the implementation despite the amount of time spent on the issue.

“He stepped up, and it’s happening,” she said. “It might be slow for people who are used to instant gratification but I’m shocked that we’re here where systems are being installed and people are beginning to recognize it, and we’re going to be seeing improvements in water quality because of it.”

Environment

When it comes to the 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, Hahn said the program has been successful, with a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. She also sponsored a bill to create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that will take effect in January.

In addition to continuing work on the county’s Blueway Trail, which will create a water path for recreational boating opportunities along Suffolk rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines, she hopes to establish Blue Flag beaches in the county, which will be the first in the United States. The standard was created in Europe, where a beach that flies the Blue Flag has a higher standard when it comes to water quality.

Opioids

Hahn in 2012 sponsored legislation to provide Narcan in police cars. The last two years she has worked with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and Stony Brook University to create training for athletic coaches in county middle, junior and high schools to teach them about the signs and symptoms of all forms of addiction. Hahn said she hopes to expand the program to athletic leagues outside of schools and even make it available to dance instructors, music teachers and Scout leaders.

“So that they’re trained to know how to deal with things when they hear it or see it, and know how to help fight and how to prevent — really the key is to prevent addiction,” she said.

District Attorney delivers a special presentation on opioid-related crimes to mayors and other officials from Suffolk County's villages at Lake Grove Village Hall.

Suffolk County Village Officials Association, which represents 32 villages, hosted a special presentation on the opioid crisis Sept. 26 at the Lake Grove Village Hall.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D), Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) all spoke to the group about how the crisis has fueled a regional surge in illegal firearms seizures and sex trafficking crimes.

Most criminal cases in the county, the officials said, relate to opioid epidemic.

People initially became addicted to prescription painkillers and over time, as demand increased, supply went down, and prices went up. So, people gravitated toward heroin, the DA said, which is more potent and more dangerous. Drug dealers, who realized that money can be made, began cutting their product with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and more recently with fentanyl variations known as analogs. Fentanyl, Sini said, originates in China and is coming into the United States through the Mexican border. The drug is also being sent into the U.S. over the Canadian border and from China through the U.S. mail.

County officials said they are drilling down as hard as possible. 

Since 2016, the federal government assigned an analyst exclusively to Suffolk County Police Department to examine overdose information with maps and weekly and monthly overdose reports. The mapping system, known as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, or HIDTA, provides a real-time picture of overdoses. It also helps identify and coordinate candidates for the county’s preventing incarceration via opportunities for treatment program known as PIVOT for short. 

“Everything we do is driven by analytics,” Hart said.

The county has also been using court-sanctioned surveillance methods such as phone tapping and search warrants to crack down on drug crimes. It issued more than 350 narcotics search warrants in 2018 and has eavesdropped on more than 150 phone lines. Consequently, the county has seized greater amounts of certain drugs and illegal firearms. 

The officials said during their presentation that it’s targeting dealers who cause overdoses and charging them with manslaughter. Sini said that through surveillance, he’s learning that tougher manslaughter statutes result in dealers turning away from deadly drugs to instead
peddle nonlethal drugs. 

In 2018, the county also launched a sex trafficking unit that has identified and interviewed more than 200 sex trafficking victims. It has arrested 34 people for 235 counts of sex-trafficking related charges and learned during the interviews how drug traffickers use opioids to addict young women to keep them dependent.

Toulon said that they’re gathering information while the women are in the sheriff’s facility, which is providing other useful information on drug and sex traffickers. 

Victims, while in the sheriff’s facility, are involved in vocational and educational programs and put in touch with nongovernmental organizations that assist with counseling, drug treatment and job training.  A big problem, though, Toulon said, is housing.  

County officials emphasized that human trafficking is happening right here, right now in our communities. It can affect anyone from your neighbor to your niece and nephew. 

Officials are also calling for the use of different terminology for prostitution.  

“It’s a modern-day form of slavery and needs to be called what it is: sex trafficking,” Hart said. The force has historically arrested the women and that was the case, Hart said, but the county’s approach is shifting and officials are now looking at the women as victims.  

Officials are asking people to trust their own  instincts. 

“If you’re at a 7-Eleven and you see an older man in a car with a young woman who looks distressed, call or text us,” the officials said.

The county initiated a Text-a-Tip program. To reach officials, text TIP SUFFOLK to the number 888-777. Residents can confidentially share any information related to illicit or suspicious activity, including drug use or trafficking, Toulon said. 

Paul Tonna, who serves as executive director of the village organization, said in a telephone interview after the event that a group of mayors were previously given a private presentation on the topic in graphic detail. The situation, he said, is horrible. The women are being forced to perform six or seven sex acts a day. He is calling for people such as PTAs and religious groups to sponsor awareness campaigns with officials.

Local villages have resources, Tonna said, such as constabulary that can also become the eyes and ears of county officials. 

“We’re not here to say you need to do more,” Sini said. ”We need to think outside of the box. Because of collective efforts, we can make greater strides.”

Ann Marie Csorny is director of Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ Community Mental Hygiene Services.  The Prevention Resource Center, run by the Family Service League, she said, offers effective tools for those working to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.  Villages and towns, she said, should tap into coalitions that exist or start to build their own coalitions.

“Communities can have a great impact in terms of preventing or reducing drug use, alcohol abuse and related problems when they understand and promote coalition building,” she said. “This can be very exciting in that involved communities promote civic engagement and the building of shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, and cooperation.”

 

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.                

State senators at THRIVE press conference. Photo by Maureen Rossi

Advocates say new budget has wins for people in recovery

By Maureen Rossi

With the opioid epidemic still endemic throughout Suffolk County and beyond, New York State senators are hoping the new state budget will mean more help for those in the throes of addiction.

Measures woven into and passed in the state budget include increasing access for those suffering with substance use disorder to access 28-day inpatient and outpatient programs without prior insurance authorization.  They also include money for a recovery high school start -up and no prior authorization for medication- assisted treatment.  

“These are critical reform measures,” said New York State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). In addition, she touted another reform, which will require emergency rooms to enact screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment for all overdose patients before they are released. For the first time, emergency room doctors will also initiate medically-assisted treatment to overdose patients prior to their release, utilizing drugs like buprenorphine that alleviate the craving for opioids including heroin. 

Long Island advocates rally in Albany for the state to do more about the opioid crisis on LI Lobby Day in March. Photo from Friends of Recovery NY

Martinez was joined by her Democratic colleagues at a press conference in Islandia April 12.  Senators Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), James Gaughran (D-Northport), Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) gathered at THRIVE Long Island, a community center for people in addiction recovery whose funding was a legislative win three years back.

The Island’s Democrats were joined by stakeholders to celebrate critical initiatives passed in this year’s state budget to combat Long Island’s pernicious opioid epidemic. Those stakeholders include parents of those lost to the epidemic, those in recovery and those in the prevention and addiction field, including the CEO of Family & Children’s Association Jeffrey Reynolds, of Smithtown.

 “There is still much work to be done to combat the opioid epidemic we are seeing here on Long Island,” Martinez added.  She looked to Reynolds to the right of the podium and shared that he was tenacious in getting the Long Island’s senators’ attention as the hours dwindled in budget meetings. “He used social media and tagged every single one of us and let us know what funding was missing in the budget.”

Kaplan said the crisis affects every community, every school and every community.   

“Too many innocent souls have been lost to this disease, they have been failed time and again,” Kaplan said.  “We are done with half-measures — we will do everything we can to help people get into long-term recovery.”  

One such measure included and passed in the budget was the funding of another THRIVE center for Nassau in Hempstead. The doors are scheduled to open next month.

Kaminsky met with some Long Island parents who lost loved ones to the epidemic prior to the budget process. Figures released by the addiction experts on Long Island put that figure at 3,400 since 2010.

“When a parent tells you the story of how they found their child (dead), you want to make sure another parent doesn’t experience that,” said Kaminsky.   

When it came to budget negotiations that lasted around the clock, the state senator said they would not take no for an answer.  

Suffolk County has long been a powerhouse when it comes to shining a light on the opioid epidemic and taking legislative measures to address it. Packages of historic bills have been pushed through statewide by Suffolk County advocates. The county is one of the state’s hardest hit counties and they were the first county in the country to file a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of the drug OxyContin.  

Reynolds addressed the senators on behalf of the sixty-plus advocates present.  “ ‘Thank you’ seems insufficient. You promised on campaign trails you would do good for Long Island. Thank you so much for your efforts,” he stated.

However, Reynolds promised that he and the Long Island advocacy movement will always ask the senators to do more. 

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Linda Nuszen, Maryann Natale and Janet D'Agostino, parents who have lost children to opioid addiction, during an event dedicating a new garden at St. Charles Hospital May 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

They say it’s becoming impossible to walk through a crowd and not find at least one person who hasn’t been affected by the opioid crisis. On May 18 a group of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom have lost loved ones, or at least experienced the strain of a loved one having gone through the throws of addiction, gathered at St. Charles Hospital for the unveiling of a new “Remembrance and Reflection Garden” just outside the Infant Jesus Chapel on hospital grounds.

The idea started with Port Jefferson resident Marcia Saddlemire, whose daughter Nicole passed away as a result of opioid addiction in 2015. She said she didn’t want to leave the memory of her daughter as just an opioid addict.

“I was getting angry watching the news, when they say so many died from overdose in Suffolk County this year, I said dammit, she’s not a statistic, she’s a person, she has a name and a life,” Saddlemire said. “All the mothers agree with this, they don’t want to grow up to be addicts. This is not what they wanted from their lives, they had dreams, they had goals.”

Stones dedicated to families affected by opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Saddlemire said she didn’t have the connections or know-how to create such a project, so she managed to get in contact with three women — Janet D’Agostino, Maryann Natale and Linda Nuszen — all of whom belong to multiple anti-opioid organizations and support groups. They gathered together to plan and create the new garden.

“We want it to be public — we don’t want to hide it,” said Natale, whose son Anthony died of an overdose. “We want them to know it’s an epidemic. This garden also helps those families who are going through such time with an addict.”

St. Charles Hospital was chosen as the location for the garden because of its existing programs fighting opioid addiction, according to the mothers. The hospital has 40 beds that are allotted for chemical dependency rehabilitation, 10 for supervised detoxification for adults and four for detoxification of adolescents age 12 to 18. Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president of St. Charles Hospital, said administration expects to receive another 10 beds for detoxification services. He said he also expects to develop an outpatient center at the hospital for addicts who need ongoing, comprehensive care in the next several years.

“We are honored that these families have chosen St. Charles Hospital as the site for this very special garden, as St. Charles is committed to hosting hospital programs which combat Suffolk County’s current addiction crisis,” O’Connor said.

Stones dedicated to families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly all work for the project was donated by local businesses. The garden includes stones engraved with the names of victims of opioid addiction and quotes from their families. Ron Dennison and his son Alan from Bohemia-based Long Island Water Jet donated their time to create a heart sign featured in the garden. The sign features large words like “forgiveness” and “understanding” along with small words like “pain” and “fear,” to show positive emotions overcoming the negative.

Dennison’s daughter, Sarah, went through the St. Charles rehab program when she became addicted to opioids. She is out of the program now, and she has a daughter named Serenity.

“When your kids are addicted, you deny it, you deny it, you deny it,” the elder Dennison said as he fought to speak through tears. “And then one day you wake up you say, ‘what is going on here.”

Nuszen and her family founded Look Up for Adam, a foundation dedicated to her son who died from an overdose in 2015. Her organization helps to raise awareness.

“So many people don’t know how to show up for our loved ones,” she said. “So many people don’t know how to be themselves, or how to be here for each other. So now that we can come here and have a place where we’re not isolated — so they come here and know they’re not alone, that there are people who care about them.”

Though the sun was shining, and the message was positive, most attendees would prefer to be just about anywhere else on a Saturday morning.

For the second year in a row, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) has helped the family of one of her constituents who experienced unimaginable personal tragedy turn pain into a positive for the community. Last year, to honor the memory of Billy Reitzig, a 25-year-old Miller Place resident who died as a result of a heroin overdose in April 2016, Bonner and Reitzig’s parents, Bill and Sandy, created Hope Walk for Addiction, an event at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai in which participants came to walk, give and receive support for those struggling with addiction, either personally or someone in their family. On April 21, Bonner and the Reitzig’s were at it again, this time hosting a War on Addiction Rally at the Pennysaver Amphitheater in Farmingville.

“This year the Reitzigs wanted to do something a little bit different — they wanted to have a rally,” Bonner said.

Both she and Bill Reitzig likened the event to a double-edged sword — positive for the feelings of solidarity and support attendees undoubtedly walked away with, but never far from the grief and the wish a rally for hundreds of people to unite against addiction weren’t necessary.

“Looking at the people here we know that everybody’s been touched by this whether it be their child or a friend or a family member,” the councilwoman said. “When we were meeting monthly to help set this up, at every meeting at the end we would say ‘God willing we won’t have to be here next year.’”

The event had another, equally important stated purpose along with support for addicts yearning for recovery and families worried about loved ones. All proceeds raised through donations, raffle tickets and offerings from the dozens of vendors on hand were donated to benefit Hope House Ministries, a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson with other locations on the North Shore that supports people suffering from addiction.

“My son passed away April 22, 2016, and prior to that there weren’t some of these groups that are here today like FIST, Families in Support of Treatment, because while he was going through Hell, in all honesty, with addiction and struggling and trying to get better, we as a family needed support,” Reitzig said. “Some of those groups weren’t available then, and since he passed away I’ve met so many nice people. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s kind of like, ‘I wish I didn’t know you, and I wish I didn’t get to meet you today.’ But you know what, my wife and I decided not to bury our heads in the sand and to come out and try to make a difference with donations. We’re just trying to give back and, I don’t know, I think I get the strength from my son in order to be able to help and try to make a difference.”

Bonner said the shift from a more somber event in 2017 to a rally this year should signal a breaking down of the stigma of addiction and empower people suffering themselves or from watching a loved one struggle to reach out for support.

“I think I get the strength from my son in order to be able to help and try to make a difference.”

— Bill Reitzig

“If we can continue to chip away at that, I think more recovery and more help will evolve from that,” she said. “We all share the feeling, that shame and embarrassment is becoming less because so many more have been affected. So I don’t know if it’s a natural progression. Whatever the reason is for it, it can only help.”

Reitzig said he also hoped a byproduct of the rally would be for people to sign a petition asking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to spearhead legislation that would mandate evidence-based substance abuse educational programs in every school statewide and urged people to question doctors when prescribed pain medication.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) shared a similar sentiment when asked what he hoped attendees would take away from the rally.

“We want to tell people there is hope, you can take back your life, you can take back control of your life,” he said.

The rally raised about $45,000 for Hope House Ministries, up from the walk in 2017 which yielded about $34,000, according to Bonner. About 1,000 people attended the Saturday morning into afternoon event. For more information about the Reitzig’s cause or to donate visit www.waronaddictionrally.com.

Town of Brookhaven residents will fill the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill to declare war on addiction April 21.

Hosted by Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries, an
organization with locations across the North Shore dedicated to providing support for those in need, including those suffering from addiction, the War on Addiction Rally will serve to both raise awareness and funds. All proceeds raised by the event will benefit Hope House Ministries to support its work in fighting addiction and assisting in the care of those trapped by drug and alcohol abuse.

The event is being dedicated in memory of Billy Reitzig, a Miller Place resident who died as a result of a heroin overdose in 2016 when he was 25 years old. The rally will feature speakers, self-help experts,
community leaders and local celebrities sharing personal experiences, as well as raffles and activities geared toward children, according to a press release for the event.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m. at the theater, located at 1 Ski Run Lane in Farmingville. It is free to register and attend, though donations to benefit Hope House Ministries will be accepted. For more information visit www.waronaddictionrally.com.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Even though it feels like Election Day 2016 was sometime last week, the 2018 midterms are right around the corner.

To that end, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) hosted a telephone town hall March 14 to give constituents the opportunity to ask questions and hear where he stands on hot-button issues in New York’s 1st
Congressional District. This was one of several telephone town halls Zeldin has hosted since he was re-elected in 2016, though many of his constituents have been rabidly calling for him to host in-person town halls for more than a year, in addition to the three-in-one day town halls he hosted in April 2017, on what some felt was short notice.

“While in D.C. these telephone town halls allow me to reach out to the greatest number of constituents at once, allowing me to listen to your concerns and answer your questions,” he said on the call. “Listening to your questions and insight is such an important part of my job.”

Zeldin fielded about 10 questions during the 60-minute call on a wide array of topics. Below are some of the highlights, with questions bolded and lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Michael: “I did vote for [President Donald] Trump (R)], but I was very disturbed when he said what he said as far as due process and our Second Amendment rights, taking guns away from people that may be perceived as not having any business having them. I wanted to be assured that you would do your part to remind our president that due process does not come second.”

“I totally agree with you, due process is incredibly important,” Zeldin said, though he offered some qualifiers that sounded as though there was at least some common ground between his position and what Trump said during a televised listening session with survivors of the February shooting in Parkland, Florida. Trump suggested that those who display signs they might be harmful to themselves or others should have guns seized immediately, prior to a crime being committed, due process be damned. He has since backed off from that sentiment.

“It’s important that we’re doing what we need to do, smart policy to keep people safe,” Zeldin said. “There were so many balls that were dropped in Parkland, at different levels of government … People who are
saying Nikolas Cruz shouldn’t have had access to a particular kind of firearm, I’ll say, a guy who shows — I don’t care if he’s 19 or 89 — anyone who is showing all of those threats and indicators, they should not have access to any firearm.”

Zeldin also reiterated his support for the Second Amendment and citizens’ right to bear arms. He also in response to a later question said he thought it was great that high school students locally and nationally are
educating themselves on issues and making their opinions known.

Nora: “In regard to the opioid epidemic, I realize that lots of funding keeps on being funneled toward this crisis, and I see that police are arresting more and more of the drug dealers. I’m not seeing in the hospital setting that the people themselves who are taking the drugs or addicted are getting the help they need. Are there any plans to build facilities for people to get the help they need before they die?”

Zeldin responded to Nora, who said she is a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, by saying in a discussion he was involved in with several generals discussing the future of foreign diplomacy, he relayed to them that opioid addiction is nearing the level of a national security threat. The congressman touted previously passed legislation, specifically the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, an $8.3 billion plan to fight drug addiction in the United States, with a significant amount of funding for prevention and treatment, and added that the bill needed repeated funding annually.

He mentioned a need to improve the quality of treatment facilities or sober homes, as well as legislation that would help to prevent the practice of “doctor shopping,” or seeking prescriptions for pain medications to feed opioid addiction. However, he fairly quickly pivoted to border security.

“When we talk about border security or people entering our country, what often gets lost in that is this is also illegal substances as well,” he said.

Frank: “Nationally there needs to be some support of President Trump in stopping illegal immigration, and what I was concerned about locally is my understanding is that there are many areas on Long Island that support sanctuary status — it’s a blatant disregard for federal law and something needs to be done about this.”

“I’m with you,” Zeldin said. He went on to name a number of examples of illegal immigrants committing violent crimes in cities around the United States as evidence the practice of protecting illegal immigrants from federal prosecution simply for that reason needing to be ended. “The sanctuary city policies we see across the country are so wrong. The federal government is responsible for creating immigration law in this country, and where you have local politicians pandering for votes and refusing to assist … you’re putting our law enforcement officers at risk. I have colleagues that celebrate illegal immigration.”

The full recording of the town hall can be heard on Zeldin’s website, www.zeldin.house.gov.

Drug dealers are designing and manufacturing fentanyl-laced drugs to resemble name-brand prescriptions. Stock photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took a firm stand against the spread of fentanyl earlier this month, proposing legislation to add 11 variations of the highly addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid drug to the state’s scheduled controlled substances list. If enacted, this law would help close a current loophole in New York that makes it easier for narcotics dealers to distribute deadly drugs and skirt felony charges by designing and manufacturing them to resemble name-brand prescriptions.

The governor pushed the proposal Feb. 5 as part of a 30-day state budget amendment, with the hopes of the budget passing the senate in April.

Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Stock photo

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable and helping ensure that our laws are able to keep pace with this evolving public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake: Fentanyl is potent, dangerous and its abuse is increasingly fueling the misery of the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine and even more so than heroin — the lethal dose of heroin is about 30 milligrams, while the lethal dose of fentanyl is 3mg. It is also not commonly reversed by Narcan, the lifesaving drug that combats heroin overdoses. Cuomo said the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state increased by nearly 160 percent in 2016, a statistic that led him to evaluate what’s missing from the controlled substances list.

His push is resonating across Suffolk County.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important step toward closing this dangerous loophole that shields drug dealers from justice and continues to tear our communities apart,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in response to the governor’s statement. “I urge the state senate and assembly to include this proposal in their respective budget bills. We need to utilize every resource available to deter individuals who create and sell these deadly drugs.”

Over at the county correctional facility, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., who regularly visits school district across Suffolk to speak with students about the dangers of opioid use, also approved of Cuomo’s actions.

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable…”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I applaud [Cuomo] for proposing strong regulations on fentanyl analogs because it gives law enforcement another avenue to crack down on drug traffickers and dealers pushing these dangerous and lethal substances into our communities,” he said.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and the president of nonprofits North Shore Drug Awareness and On Kevin’s Wings, knows firsthand the devastation these opioids cause. Her son, Kevin, died of an overdose in 2012 and her daughter Breanna is currently three years in recovery.

Farrell said because there are so many different chemical makeups of fentanyl, “too often this ties the hands of our law enforcement” to enact stricter penalties.

“My son was one of 83 who passed in Suffolk County in 2012 when fentanyl wasn’t really on the radar, but five years later, that number is over 500 with a very large percentage of those deaths being caused by fentanyl,” she said. “We must take any and all steps possible to get the sale of this drug to impose the maximum sentences and potentially save lives.”

Sal Vetro, a pharmacist at Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, said this would be a major step in the right direction toward saving lives.

“I think Cuomo’s on the right track,” Vetro said. “We’re trying to fight this epidemic and the people who need fentanyl should have fentanyl, but if it’s being used illegally, sold illegally, or causing damage illegally, those people should certainly be punished. We have to stop ignoring the problem, and this is a start.”

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Donna Newman

At a recent meeting of the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Program — a support group that seeks to educate all and assist parents and family members of teens and young adults battling substance abuse —  I spoke with a young mother of elementary-school-age children. She was there to learn about this growing danger that has taken so many lives in Suffolk County. She is afraid for her children. They are growing up in a society where drug overdose deaths have become routine. She wants to protect her children from becoming victims of substance abuse.

This mom has been on a crusade to make parents aware of the dangers, knowing that this is a Three Village problem and it will take community awareness and extensive effort to combat it. So she speaks to parents of young children wherever she finds them to encourage them to be part of the solution. She told me the majority response from parents is: “Not my kid. She’s an A student.” Or, “Not my kid, he’s an athlete.” Or simply, “My child would never get involved in that.”

I’m here to tell you that you need to take your head out of the sand.

The significant drug problem at Ward Melville High School when my sons were in attendance in the 1990s was not publicly acknowledged by the school district — or anyone else other than the parents whose children “got into trouble.” Mine did not. They were honor grads, heavily involved in extracurricular activities.

However, in a conversation with one of my sons, years after graduation, I learned he had used drugs with some regularity while in high school. It turned out I had been one of those clueless parents. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Lucky, because back then, when a teenager bought marijuana, it was just pot. It was not the cannabis of today, which may be laced with illicit and scary drugs by dealers seeking to hook kids on stronger stuff. Lucky, because he did not have a propensity, and his “recreational” use never rose to the level of addiction.

Full disclosure: As a college student in the 1960s I experimented with marijuana as well. My equally clueless mother discovered a small baggie of weed in my room. She trashed it, never saying a word to me. In that era, just knowing she knew was enough to get me to stop.

The school district has finally acknowledged the fact that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, not a moral lapse requiring punishment.

According to “School district welcomes new drug and alcohol counselor” in the  July 20 edition of The Village Times Herald, the district has hired a substance abuse counselor. Heather Reilly, certified social worker, will be tasked with rotating through the secondary schools one day each week (including the Three Village Academy alternative high school program), providing substance abuse counseling, educating faculty about warning signs and drug lingo, and creating educational curriculum for sixth-graders in collaboration with elementary health teachers. She will also be available to work directly with families.

While this is a laudable first step, it’s not nearly enough. Change will not happen without a concerted community effort. Parents need to accept the fact that this is a real problem affecting Three Villagers across the cultural and economic spectrum. Yes, it could even be your child.

Folks must come to grips with the fact that chemical dependency is a potentially fatal illness and that 90 percent of sufferers go untreated. They need to acknowledge that kids who are addicted to alcohol and/or opioid drugs are not “bad” kids. They are youngsters whose brains are not fully developed, who made bad choices that led to a tragic outcome. It’s time for all of us to learn all we can about prevention and to come together to end this plague.

There’s a lot you can do. For starters, attend the monthly meetings at the Bates House in Setauket. Dates and times are listed on Facebook on the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Parent Group page — along with other helpful information. Learn when and how to begin to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and your family’s rules concerning underage drinking and substance abuse. A good place to begin is at New York State’s online site www.talk2prevent.ny.gov.

The next meeting at the Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, will be held Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Donna Newman, a freelance writer, is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.