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Carole Trottere speaks at a press conference on May 9 to mark National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. Photo from Kara’s Hahn’s office

By Rita J. Egan

Carole Trottere exemplifies turning personal tragedy into a mission to create positive change.

Following the loss of her son, Alex Sutton, to a heroin-fentanyl overdose in 2018, the Old Field resident became a dedicated advocate for raising awareness about the risks of fentanyl while ensuring victims are remembered.

Former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) described Trottere as a woman with a unique perspective shaped by her son’s passing and her career as a public relations professional. The ex-legislator remembered the mother coming to her before a December 2022 press conference held in front of Hahn’s former office. The press conference, organized with the help of Trottere and in conjunction with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, addressed the increase of drug use during the holiday season.

“Carole said we have to remember that this is a moment of risk for families and people who are struggling with addiction,” Hahn said. “They’re sad because of the friends they’ve lost and their own depression, and it’s a real hard time for families who have lost loved ones because there’s an empty seat at the table.”

Trottere also worked with Hahn to organize a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge May 9 to mark National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. The event featured purple rocks decorated with photos of those lost to accidental overdoses.

Earlier this year, Trottere also approached Hahn about placing Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication, in county facilities, which led to a bill co-sponsored by Hahn and Legislator Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park). The resolution requires Narcan kits to be stored near external defibrillators in all county facilities. When interviewed about the bill for TBR News Media, Trottere said, “If you save one life, it’s sparing the parents the horrible grief that I go through and giving someone a second chance to try to get into recovery.” In April the bill was approved by the county Legislature.

In October 2022, Trottere hosted an event at her son’s favorite pizza place, Station Pizza in Stony Brook, in conjunction with the Suffolk County Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit to commemorate what would have been her son’s 35th birthday. In addition to attendees receiving free pizza, police trained them in the use of Narcan. After nearly 50 people stopped by in 2022, Trottere hosted the event once again this year.

Working with families

Last year at the Drug Enforcement Administration National Family Summit on Fentanyl in Washington, D.C., and also at the December 2022 press conference, Trottere met Claudia Friszell and Lori Carbonaro. Friszell lost her son Marc Lewis in 2000 when he was 18, and Carbonaro’s son Nick died when he was 22 in 2014. Both women lost their sons to drug overdoses. They are active with LICADD and Gabriel’s Giving Tree, the grassroots organization founded by Paulette Phillippe in honor of her grandson Gabriel Phillippe.

The mothers said they quickly bonded with Trottere. Carbonaro calls her “a powerhouse with heart,” and Friszell said she holds Trottere in high regard as they both aim to turn their grief into positive actions.

“My son died 23 years ago, and we all try to take our experience and use it so that nobody else has to go through what we went through,” Friszell said.

This past summer, Trottere spearheaded the purple rock project at local farmers markets, where people who had lost family members to drug overdoses decorated the rocks with photos of their loved ones. The project was in conjunction with SCPD Narcan training. Friszell and Carbonaro, who have helped at the farmers markets, said it’s vital to show the victims’ faces and initiate conversations with all families.

“You have to meet the families where they’re at to get them armed with what they need as it could be in their family,” Carbonaro said.

She added, “If someone sees the purple rock and a child asks what it’s about and a parent can tell them, that’s one more person that knows, hopefully, what not to get into or how to save someone.”

Friszell said it’s important to remember the victims were human beings.

“These were your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, your fellow students,” Friszell added. “They were people. They’re not just statistics, and it affects the whole family. That’s what really drew us to Carole because she had the same mindset.”

Carbonaro said Trottere wants to take her anger about her son’s death and use it to be part of a solution.

“With all the horrors going on, and what we’ve gone through and beyond and in other parts of the world, there is a lot of humanity still left, and we really need to share it — people like Carole,” Carbonaro said.

Trottere’s work destigmatizes the disease and raises awareness, which potentially could prevent future deaths, Hahn said.

“She’s taking this tragedy — and with being an effective communicator — to educate and bring awareness to the issue,” Hahn added. “I think it’s important. The fact of having lost her own son, she’s really able to understand the impact of the disease, and the humanity and the potential lost in the lives that were lost. There was so much potential in each person lost.”

For Carole Trottere’s important work in the field of drug addiction awareness, TBR News Media names her a Person of the Year for 2023.

Suffolk County's drug problem will be discussed at a public forum Oct. 1. File photo by Erika Karp

Opioid addiction will be the topic of discussion at a community forum on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Stony Brook University. The free event, titled The Opioid Epidemic, will be hosted by the group Scientists for Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy and Education at the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.  Hear from policy experts, community leaders and scientists on how to combat this growing threat to our community. A series of short presentations will be followed by a round-table discussion with community participation. Refreshments will be served.

Speakers will include state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff William Weick,  Director of Adult Inpatient Services at Stony Brook Constantine Ioannou and Columbia University Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology Jermaine Jones.

Attendees are encouraged to bring excess or expired medication for the “Shed the Meds” disposal program. Narcan (opioid OD antidote) training is available after the event for selected pre-registered participants.

Free parking is available at the Administration parking lot across from the Wang Center.

For more information or to register online, visit opioidepidemicforum.eventbrite.com or call 267-259-7347.

Tracey Budd poses for a photo with her son Kevin Norris, who died of a heroin overdose in 2012. Photo from Tracey Budd

Tracey Budd’s son died of a heroin overdose in September 2012.

One year later, Budd, of Rocky Point, was asked to speak at the North Shore Youth Council. Since then, she’s ended up on a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that’s shown in high schools and middle schools along the North Shore, aiding her in becoming an advocate for drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation. She also teamed up with another mother, Debbie Longo, of Miller Place, and the two have become advocates for prevention and rehabilitation along the North Shore.

It is because of their hard work and dedication to this issue on Long Island that they are 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

“I made the decision not to be ashamed of how he passed away,” Budd said about her son. “Just from speaking that one time at North Shore Youth Council, it was so very healing for me, and so many things have come from that and taken me in a direction that I never thought I’d be in, but it seems like it’s my calling.”

Janene Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor and executive director of the North Shore Youth Council, helped work on that PSA.

“It was very powerful,” she said. “It was walking her through her grief. She has a lot of courage.”

Budd, who is also a member of Families in Support of Treatment, pulled together as much information as she could, and this past October created a Facebook page — North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates — pooling together families from Rocky Point, Miller Place, Mount Sinai and Shoreham-Wading River to spread the word about the rising concern over dangerous drugs, like heroin, growing in popularity across the Island.

“It just seemed that so many people were inboxing me and asking me for help,” she said. “I created the page so we could have a centralized area where we share information, and organize meetings where the group could all meet up. I also organized meetings once a month so we could to teach people about advocacy.”

Having a 12-year-old daughter, Cristina Dimou attended the meetings to begin to gather information on the issue. About one week ago, someone Dimou knows suffered an unexpected overdose, she said. She immediately reached out to Budd asking for guidance.

Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook
Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook

“She gave me three phone numbers telling me who to call for what and even gave me websites of rehabilitation centers,” Dimou said about Budd. “She checks up on me every day, asking me if I’m okay and what’s going on. I don’t know her personally, but she had a sense of urgency and a willingness to help. I think that speaks volumes.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said with Budd’s outspokenness and Longo’s long-standing knowledge of the issue, they’ll be successful in their efforts.

“These women put their energy, their anger, their frustration, their sorrow into something that is helpful to the community,” she said. “I think they’re going to do amazing work.”

Longo has been involved in advocacy across the Island for the last five years, after her son suffered an overdose 10 years ago. Since then, her son has recovered, and currently lives in Del Ray, Florida as a director of marketing for a rehabilitation center called Insight to Recovery.

She said she found sending her son out of state helped him recover, because once he was done with his treatment, he wasn’t going back to seeing the same people he knew when he was using.

But she too has been involved in outreach and drug abuse prevention, aside from being to co-administrator of Budd’s Facebook page.

“I get a call just about every day from a parent saying they have a kid that’s addicted and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “We’re losing kids left and right. We’re losing a generation, is what we’re losing.”

Longo is a part of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit program, Steered Straight, which spreads prevention in schools. Recovered addict Michael DeLeon leads the program.

“You can hear a pin drop in the auditorium, that’s how dynamic of a speaker he is,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many kids come up to us at the end of the program and say, ‘I have a problem.’”

Longo was the chapter coordinator for New York State for a website called The Addict’s Mom, and is currently the head of Before the Petals Fall, Magnolia Addiction Support’s New York chapter. She is a 12-step yoga teacher to recovering addicts, and does post-traumatic stress disorder programs to help those dealing with grief.

After leaving nursing to go into medical marketing for hospitals, Longo said she thought she’d know where to turn when she found out her son was an addict, but said she really didn’t know what to do.

“There was such a bad stigma about addiction that you didn’t want to talk about it — you kind of suffered in silence,” she said. “If I was a nurse and had these contacts and didn’t know what to do, the average mother may have no idea. I’m trying to open the community up to what we have here on the North Shore.”

Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd
Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd

Longo has helped mothers like Sheila “Terry” Littler, of Rocky Point, whose son is a second-time recovering heroin addict. Currently, he is three months sober.

Knowing about treatment and where to get help, because it was something that started for her 13 years ago, Littler reached out to Longo for mental support.

“It was nice to have somebody else that’s gone through it to talk to, to know you’re not alone,” Littler said. “But at the same time, it’s sad that I’m not alone.”

When her son relapsed after being four and a half years sober, she reached out to Budd.

“It takes a lot of guts to come out in the open and do this and help people,” she said. “There are a lot of hurting people out there.”

She recently reached out to Longo about a friend of her son, who is a drug user, and the two were calling each other back and forth to find ways to overcome addiction.

“She cared to take the time to help me,” she said. “She spent a whole day doing that with me — that’s dedication right there.”

With the contacts Longo’s made with support centers and prevention agencies and Budd’s relationship with the county after creating the PSA, the two are teaming up to use their resources to form a coalition based on the Facebook page. It was also have the same name.

It’s in its early stages, but the hope is to help spread awareness about prevention through schools. As part of a coalition, Budd said, you can also apply for grants, which she hopes will help fund the spread of their advocacy.

“I felt Tracey was on the same path that I was on,” Longo said. “She is as tenacious as I am in what we’re trying to do.”

Longo said that she and Budd are trying to be vigilantes and have started Narcan training classes, like ones they’ve previously hosted in Miller Place and East Setauket, to continue to help fight the Island’s drug addiction problem. Narcan is a medication that stops opioid overdoses.

“I think together we’re a good team,” Budd said. “To me, you have a choice. You can either dig your head in the sand and be embarrassed that your child is an addict, or you can be proactive and say, ‘Enough of this, let’s help each other.’ When you speak to another parent that’s going through it, there’s a bond that you automatically create. In a way, I feel like my son is right there with me, helping these families. It’s very important to me, and I’m never going to stop doing it.”