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Fentanyl

Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico, left, and Lillian Clayman debate the issues facing town residents. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Lynn Hallarman

A lively debate took place between candidates Lillian Clayman (D) and Dan Panico (R) for Town of Brookhaven supervisor at the headquarters of TBR News Media. The incumbent supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), is running for Suffolk County executive. 

Candidates had two minutes each to respond to questions from the staff, with an optional 30-second rebuttal. The debate kicked off with the rundown of their credentials.

Clayman, 70, of Port Jefferson, honed her political skills as the three-term elected mayor of Hamden, Connecticut, from 1991 to ’97. She served as a city councilwoman in Connecticut, where she was the finance committee chair and managed a budget of about $200 million. Clayman noted that she spent 10 years as a financial planner and portfolio manager.

Since moving to Long Island 20 years ago, she has worked as a union organizer for 1199 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and was chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee from 2016 to ’21. She holds a doctoral degree in American History from Rutgers in 2019.

Clayman was asked to step in when former Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant withdrew from the race this June due to illness.

“As mayor of Hamden, I was in charge of the board of education budget, the sewers, the police department, the fire department, the libraries, all the roads, parks and recreation,” she said.

Panico, 45, of Center Moriches, represents the town’s 6th Council District, a position he has held since he was first elected in 2010.

Panico received his law degree from Touro Law School with an award for excellence in land use, zoning and planning. He has been deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven since 2012.

“I’ve run as high as almost 79% of the vote because I know the job I do, and that is local government,” he said. “I don’t talk about national politics.”

Town supervisor’s role

When asked for their superpower, or the quality that makes them most qualified for the town’s highest post, the candidates offered varying perspectives.

Panico said, “My superpower is that my land use planning and zoning ability is unparalleled by anybody in the town. That is my superpower.”

Clayman, on the other hand, responded, “I can get people to work together. I work collaboratively.”

Land use

Panico said he believes the best land use decisions happen at the hyperlocal level in collaboration with communities and their elected district council representative.

“I’m deeply involved in all the redevelopment projects throughout the entire town,” the deputy supervisor said. “It’s without an exaggeration that I could be the councilperson for any of the six town council districts.”

He added, “I have the know-how to meet with developers and push the projects through, which are predominantly redevelopment, but also safeguard communities like Stony Brook and Setauket to make sure they are not overdeveloped.”

Clayman used her two minutes to focus on sewer infrastructure, which she believes is a critical aspect of sustainable development throughout the town.

“Without sewers, without IA [Innovative/Alternative] septic systems, we will continue to release nitrogen into our aquifers into our waterways,” she said. “Until we get new sewers and septics, we can’t even talk about development. We must be very careful because we are above our capacity.”

On the Town Board’s role in overseeing the planning and construction of new developments, both candidates agreed upon a hands-on approach from the supervisor’s office.

“I make it my business to know what’s going on across the entire town, although I represent the 6th town Council District,” Panico said. “I wrote the multifamily code with our planning department. I rewrote the [Planned Retirement Community code] and the [Commercial Redevelopment District code].”

Clayman offered a slightly varied perspective, noting the role of the town government in limiting overdevelopment. “The primary function of the Town Board is to make sure that areas are not overdeveloped,” she said. “All you have to do is look at Port Jefferson Station — there is an enormous amount of overdevelopment that is occurring in this area.”

Open space

Another critical component of the town’s land use arsenal is its open space fund. When pressed for their strategies for preserving open space, Panico highlighted the few undeveloped parcels that remain.

“I think we’re in a race to save what’s left,” the Republican said. “That’s what I believe, and I believe people in Brookhaven value open space,” adding, “We have the Joseph Macchia [Environmental Preservation] Capital Reserve Fund, open space funds that we use. I would certainly partner to preserve as much open space as we can and work with our villages.”

Clayman advocated for a grassroots, civic approach targeting parcels for preservation as open space. “Working with the civic associations and the Town Board to make sure that we have open space” would be critical, the Democratic candidate said. “We don’t need to develop every single piece of property that is available. That is something that occurred during the ’70s and ’80s, and we don’t need to do that now.”

Lawrence Aviation site

Lawrence Aviation is among the biggest Superfund sites on Long Island, and both Port Jefferson Station and the Village and Port Jefferson Station will likely bear most of the impacts from future redevelopment of that site. 

On how to accommodate residents of those areas, Panico said, “People have had to deal with that pollution for quite some time. If you are going to unveil solar in the area, give the affected population a reduced rate on their electric — you’re allowed to do that under New York State law. And give the residents of [Port Jefferson] Village a break on their tax bills. I think that would be a somewhat equitable thing to do.” 

Clayman said that the longstanding environmental impacts are not localized to Lawrence Aviation. “It’s not just Lawrence Aviation. At the town landfill, there are negative impacts from toxins that have seeped into our groundwater and our air. People swear that Lawrence Aviation has had a negative impact [on their health]. But I also think that what Dan said is a good idea for that property. I’m all for [tax breaks].”

Cost of living

For many seniors and young people throughout the region, the high standard of living is becoming untenable, prompting many to leave Long Island. To counteract these movements, Clayman advocated for increasing the amount of affordable housing units in the town. She pointed out that to live on the Island for a family of four, you need to make about $150,000 a year.

“That’s a lot of money,” she said. “The average family on Long Island is currently making about $86,000 a year. [Affordable] housing prices need to reflect that amount. That is something that can be part of any kind of development plan.”

Panico highlighted the town’s recent efforts in constructing new affordable units. “We’ve been very successful around the town in creating more units,” he said. “But if you listen to my opponent, we can’t build any more units. And to me, I live in reality, and I am pragmatic.”

He added, “I know that there needs to be redevelopment — redevelopment is the name of the game.”

Fentanyl crisis

Both candidates regarded the fentanyl crisis foremost as a mental health issue. Panico viewed the crisis as an issue that primarily needs addressing at the state and federal levels. Clayman, on the other hand, said there is an opportunity for expanded town, county and state partnerships in education and outreach.

“We can utilize the resources that we have with Channel 18 to have outreach to the communities and to the schools,” Panico said, “But ultimately, [combating the crisis] is going to come from a change in our federal government.”

Clayman outlined her more local outlook toward remediating the challenges. “I think the town has an important role to play,” she said. The town “needs to put more of our time and energy and focus not just into development projects but also look at how we can be of service to the community.”

As a follow-up, the TBR staff inquired how the candidates sought to finance an expanded role in combating the fentanyl crisis within the town.

Clayman suggested looking within the current budget as a possible source of financing a community response to the crisis: “I would look through vendor contracts, for example, and examine [the spending on] those vendor contracts.”

Panico objected to this proposal. “We’re going to look into vendor contracts and solve the fentanyl crisis?” he asked. “To me, it doesn’t make any sense. The fact of the matter is, it’s better when one level of government is focused on this issue.”

Energy costs

Both candidates agreed that the town’s Community Choice Aggregation program, launched in Brookhaven in 2022, is a well-intentioned initiative by the Town Board.

Clayman, however, questioned the rollout of the program as mired in confusing bureaucracy, putting the responsibility on town residents to figure out how to maximize cost savings.

“While maybe it was good intentioned, it doesn’t serve the residents,” she said. “And worst of all, nobody knows about it.”

Panico acknowledged that the town could do a better job of explaining the program to residents but believes it is a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless.

“Our aim is to save people money,” he indicated. “If you are a savvy consumer, you can opt out when the price is low and opt back into our program and save real money.”

“That’s unfair,” Clayman responded. “The program is based on putting the responsibility on [residents] to opt out of a program they are automatically enrolled in. As a consumer, I would much rather learn about a program beforehand and then make a decision as to whether or not I want to participate.”

Panico countered by adding, “Scores of people have used the program, and the town has an active outreach program to educate residents on their choices. The town publishes National Grid rates on their website so that people can track the rates.”

Brookhaven animal shelter

Earlier this year, residents publicly witnessed some frayed relations between volunteers and staff at the town-operated animal shelter on Horseblock Road. [See story, “Volunteers and officials express concerns over Brookhaven animal shelter,” Aug. 5, TBR News Media.]

“Just this morning, [New York] State declared the animal shelter unsatisfactory,” Clayman said. “The volunteers at the animal shelter were [the ones] that brought [the issues] to the public eye. This is one of the areas that Brookhaven needs to be more transparent.”

She added, “An attorney was hired to oversee the animal shelter — you don’t need an attorney to be in charge of an animal shelter. He directed that the volunteers had to sign non-disclosure agreements.”

Panico defended the administration for its handling of the shelter and pointed to progress at the facility since the initial dispute.

“We hired, for the first time, a full-time veterinarian at the animal shelter,” he said. “I met with some of the more prominent volunteers — they’re happy with the progress. We are making a big effort to bring up the animal shelter. But also, we hired somebody specifically for social media to get these dogs and cats adopted.”

Clayman responded, “But it is indicative of the way the town government has been run that volunteers have to meet in secret with a potential candidate for office.”

Panico countered, “Under my administration, there will be no NDAs or anything like that. We’re going to calm the waters.”

Active-use trails

Both candidates endorsed park preservation, linear park expansion and linkage of existing trails within the town.

Panico pointed to his record as councilman in park preservation, including negotiating with developers to preserve or create park spaces.

“Our parks and trails are absolutely beautiful in the Town of Brookhaven,” he stated. “I’ve made it [almost] through the Rails to Trails with myself and my 4-year-old on the back of my bike and my 9-year-old [on his bike].”

Clayman touted her record as the mayor of Hamden in building new biking and walking amenities.

“I built the Farmington Canal trail, which is a rails-to-trail linear park,” she said. “I would work very hard in linking [Brookhaven trails] up and to build more.”

Self-reflection

TBR asked each candidate on a personal level for their greatest frustration in their respective professional lives.

“I sometimes wonder if other people spend as much time [as I do] kicking themselves in the butt over something that I thought that I should do better,” Clayman said.

For Panico, “I wrestle with whether I should stick to what I know and stay in my lane in town government, or should I get more involved in other levels of government,” he said. “Professionally, I wrestle with this issue. I’ve chosen to stick predominantly with staying in my lane. I think I’ve made the right decision.”

When asked if they had a magic wand that could immediately resolve two issues within the town, the town supervisor candidates offered insightful perspectives.

“That’s easy,” Clayman said. “I would clean up the water, I would clean up the aquifer — that would be number one. I would make sure that the air was good to breathe. That would be wonderful if I could do that.”

Panico replied, “If I had a magic wand, I would help homeless people and the mental health crisis on the Island because it’s a Herculean task, but I would if I could solve that. Litter is something that is pervasive on the Island. It’s almost societal, and there’s no easy way to tackle it.”

Residents townwide will decide between these two candidates. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota. Photo from LaLota’s website

Freshman U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) held the third telephone town hall event of his tenure Wednesday, July 26. 

During this event, he addressed the exorbitant utility costs shouldered by Suffolk County residents, opined on rising opioid overdose deaths in the county and around the nation, and condemned the federal government’s handling of immigration.

Utility rates

County residents, on average, pay $226 per month on electricity, 28% higher than the national average, according to EnergySage. Pressed by one caller about how he would help lower energy bills for 1st District residents, LaLota proposed an “all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

“There’s battery, there’s wind, there’s solar,” he said. “I think that we should explore it all, and we should take advantage of everything that is on the table.”

He tied energy development to national security. By promoting homegrown energy sources, LaLota maintained that utility costs would begin to decrease along with American dependence on foreign energy.

“I think that increasing American energy independence will not only increase the supply of energy, it will bring the prices down,” he said. “A correlated benefit of that is we have to buy less oil from Russia, from Venezuela and from the Middle East.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers petroleum “a significant source of emissions of methane” while “drilling for oil may disturb land and marine ecosystems.” Despite these environmental risks, LaLota expressed support for expanding domestic drilling.

“Forty-something billion barrels of proven oil reserves are underneath our feet,” he said. “We can get those resources out of the ground safely. It will help bring energy prices down, both at the pump and what it costs to heat your home.”

SALT deductions

The congressman said he and members of a bipartisan caucus are working to repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax, or SALT, deductions created under the 2017 Trump-era Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“We used to be able to, as New Yorkers, deduct an unlimited amount from our federal taxes that we paid into our state and local taxes,” LaLota said. “Right now, it’s capped at $10,000.”

LaLota said he had prepared legislation to increase the maximum federal SALT deduction to $60,000 for individuals and $120,000 for families. He pledged to oppose any tax package proposed by the Republican majority in the U.S. House which does not include “a reasonable accommodation” on SALT.

“I’m going to say ‘No SALT, no deal for real,’” he added. “I’m in it until the end.”

Immigration

LaLota denounced President Joe Biden’s (D) handling of the U.S.-Mexico border and New York City’s “sanctuary city” designation.

He said he supported two recently passed resolutions barring public schools and colleges from housing migrants, legislation that comes on the heels of a proposal to house asylum seekers at Stony Brook University. [See story, “With Hochul’s asylum plans uncertain, policymakers weigh in as county issues emergency order,” June 1, TBR News Media website.]

“I don’t think that we ought to be mixing unvetted migrants with our school-aged children,” LaLota said.

He also suggested that migrants receive disproportionate government assistance to other vulnerable groups. 

“Right now, the homeless shelters in New York have more migrants in them than they have American citizens,” the congressman said. “Veterans, the mentally ill, drug addicts, they’re not getting the government resources they need because they’re being diverted to folks who are not in this country legally or are manipulating the asylum process.”

He added, “I think that needs to change.”

The congressman proposed reinstituting Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration policy allowing swift expulsion of asylum seekers over public health concerns.

“I support increasing funding for [U.S.] Customs and Border Protection, building more physical barriers, investing in technology and vehicles, and hiring more asylum judges,” he said, adding, “But what’s absent is we need leadership from the executive branch.”

Opioid epidemic

The most recent data from the New York State Department of Health indicate overdose deaths and those involving synthetic opioids had “significantly worsened” in Suffolk County between 2019 and 2020 — deaths in 2020 totaling 363, up 88 from the previous year.

Fentanyl “is coming in at ports of entry, it’s coming in between ports of entry,” the congressman said, advocating for beefier border security measures to reduce opioid deaths.

LaLota said the House-passed Stop Chinese Fentanyl Act would sanction Chinese companies “who are putting this poison into our system and killing our young folks,” adding, “We should exercise all other options on this.”

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Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney. Photo from Tierney's office

Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney announced on May 18 that QHAMEL DICKERSON, 28, of Huntington Station, and RASHIED SMITH, 41,  of Central Islip, were both sentenced for selling fentanyl that resulted in two unrelated overdose  deaths of Suffolk County residents.  

Quamel Dickerson

 

“The fentanyl epidemic has claimed the lives of two more innocent women, and the unfortunate  reality is that this problem will continue to worsen without action,” said District Attorney Tierney.  “The dangers of fentanyl are not breaking news anymore. Not in Suffolk County, not in Albany,  and not to the drug dealers who continue to push this poison into our communities. Cheap  manufacturing and lethally high potency have exposed the legislative gaps that hinder law  enforcement’s ability to effectively manage the situation. That is why I will continue to push for a  death by dealer statute. We owe it to the victims and their families to hold all dealers of fentanyl  dealers accountable for the deaths they cause.”  

According to court documents and DICKERSON’s admission during his guilty plea allocution, on  July 5, 2022, the Suffolk County Police Department responded to East Northport for a fatal drug  overdose of a 23-year-old female. 

The victim’s cell phone, found at the scene, contained text messages between the victim and  DICKERSON in which DICKERSON agreed to sell the victim illicit pills. On July 4, 2022,  DICKERSON met with the victim and sold her counterfeit pills that bore the color, shape, and  markings of oxycodone, but contained fentanyl instead.  

In August 2022, DICKERSON used the same cell phone to communicate with an undercover  detective from the Suffolk County Police Department, where DICKERSON agreed to sell the  undercover detective the same type of pills he sold to the overdose victim. Thereafter, at a location  in Suffolk County, DICKERSON met with the undercover detective and sold them counterfeit  oxycodone pills containing fentanyl. DICKERSON was arrested on September 1, 2022.  

Rashied Smith
Rashied Smith

On March 10, 2023, DICKERSON pleaded guilty before Acting Supreme Court Justice, the  Honorable Anthony S. Senft, Jr., to two counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the  Third Degree, a Class B felony. DICKERSON faced up to nine years in prison at sentencing. On  April 18, 2023, Judge Senft sentenced DICKERSON to five years in prison followed by two years  of post-release supervision. The District Attorney’s Office had requested an eight-year prison  sentence. DICKERSON was represented by Scott Zerner, Esq.  

In a separate case, on the morning of June 23, 2022, the Suffolk County Police Department  responded to a home in Mastic and discovered a 43-year-old woman had fatally overdosed. The  police recovered the victim’s cell phone which contained text messages between her and SMITH  from the night before her death. In those text message conversations, SMITH agreed to sell the  victim crack cocaine and fentanyl. Police learned that SMITH had met the victim in Central Islip  where he sold her the drugs.  

Within 48 hours of the victim’s death, SMITH sold crack cocaine to an undercover detective in  the Suffolk County Police Department. A couple of days later, Smith sold crack cocaine and  fentanyl to the undercover detective. A search warrant was executed at SMITH’s residence where  police found the cell phone he used to negotiate the sales of crack cocaine and fentanyl with both  the victim and the undercover detective. 

Police also found an illegal loaded Taurus semi-automatic firearm, crack cocaine, and a digital  scale used for weighing narcotics for sale. SMITH was arrested on June 29, 2022.  

On April 7, 2023, SMITH pleaded guilty before Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Richard  Ambro, to two counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, a Class B  felony, and one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, a Class C violent  felony. SMITH faced up to 12 years in prison at sentencing.  

On May 18, 2023, Judge Ambro sentenced SMITH to seven years in prison followed by five years  of post-release supervision. The District Attorney’s Office had requested a 10-year prison  sentence. SMITH was represented by Lonnie Hart, Jr., Esq.  

Prior to the conviction in this case, SMITH had multiple prior convictions related to drug  possession, including two separate convictions for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance  in the Fourth Degree, a Class C felony, in both 2016 and 2019, as well as a felony conviction for  Violating the Sex Offender Registry Requirement as a Second Offense in 2013.  

 



Purple rocks with faces and names painted on them represented local lives lost to fentanyl. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Grieving residents and elected officials gathered on Tuesday, May 9, for a press conference in Hauppauge hosted by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) for National Fentanyl Awareness Day. A pebble was dropped into a jar every 8 1/2 minutes during the press conference, representing the average span that another individual dies from a fentanyl overdose in the United States. Purple rocks with faces and names of lost loved ones painted on them were placed on the ground in front of the podium, representing the 175 lives lost each day due to this epidemic.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, at podium, hosted a press conference on May 9 to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

In addition to Hahn, several other elected officials attended and spoke at the press conference, including county legislators Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville), Manuel Esteban (R-East Northport), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport).

Several parents and family members of individuals who had lost their lives due to an opioid addiction also spoke. One common thread speakers emphasized was that prevention is key.

Something as simple as parents talking to their children about the dangers of drugs could encourage them to never experiment in that area. Dorothy Cavalier, currently chief of staff for county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and future candidate for Anker’s term-limited post, said that she’s “seen the great work that we can do and the amazing things that can happen when people just talk [to their children].” She warned that children might receive a pill from another kid at school thinking that it will help them focus while studying, but it might be laced with fentanyl.

Doctors overprescribing drugs for other issues could also lead to an addiction. Esteban said that there needs to be accountability for doctors to disincentivize giving out dangerous drugs too freely. “We need laws to hold doctors responsible who overprescribe,” he said. Piccirillo added that the county has won lawsuits against large pharmaceutical companies and put that money back into the community to help parents and children that are battling this addiction issue.

Several speakers also touched on the need for better treatment options for those attempting to overcome this battle with addiction. “We need programs that give people a fighting chance,” Esteban said. “Studies show they need at least three months. Why are we not funding these programs?” 

The mental health crisis was also discussed as a factor in this rising issue. Bontempi emphasized that part of this has to do with putting too much pressure on children and keeping expectations too high. Claudia Friszell, who lost her son to an overdose and is a drug treatment advocate, said, “We need to talk to our kids about dealing with stress and our emotions.”

Kennedy emphasized that we “need more funding for mental health treatment, which includes substance misuse.” She said that it should be a focus to get the federal and state governments to fund programs that get treatment to every individual who needs it.

Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn and Stephanie Bontempi hug after latter’s speech at the May 9 press conference to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Photo by Daniel Febrizio

Many speakers wished to remove the stigma around drug addiction. Carole Trottere, who lost her son in 2018 and helped organize this event, said, “Some people think these kids deserved what they got or they knew what they were getting into.” She added that some people will say that all those who have died from overdoses were “just a bunch of drug addicts.”

Blue Point resident Dorothy Johnson, who lost her son in 2011, wants to remove that shame and stigma. She said that when returning to work after her son passed, no one wanted to talk about it with her. Johnson works in her community to get people discussing this issue so that those in need know they are not alone.

Steve Chassman, executive director for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, emphasized that if a person is struggling with addiction they should reach out for help. “If you’re out in the cold from opiate or substance use, it’s time to come in from the cold, and we will help you,” he said.

Hahn began the press conference by informing the attendees of the fentanyl death statistics in the United States: seven every hour, 175 each day, 1,225 each week, more than 5,250 each month and more than 63,000 each year. The hope is that an environment is built where those battling drug addiction feel supported enough to seek help before they become another number in the rising fentanyl death total.

In a press release from Hahn, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. 

The release noted that since taking office in 2012, Hahn “has sponsored several pieces of legislation designed to help stem the tide of opioid deaths in Suffolk County.”

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Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney. Photo from Tierney's office

Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney announced on May 8 that Christopher Guzman, 40, of Farmingville, was indicted for allegedly driving while impaired by fentanyl and causing a three-car collision that claimed the life of a 22-year-old Centereach man,  and injured two other drivers.  

“While this defendant was operating his vehicle, he was allegedly impaired by fentanyl, one of the  deadliest drugs in America, which has affected our communities here in Suffolk County,” said  District Attorney Tierney. “Sadly, the defendant’s alleged use of fentanyl in this case forever  changed the life of an innocent victim. The tragic death of 22-year-old Timothy Carpenter is yet  another sad reminder of the consequences of driving while impaired by drugs. Swift legislative  action needs to be taken to strengthen our DWI laws as well as increase the penalties for fentanyl  related crimes.”  

According to the investigation, on March 19, 2023, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Guzman was  driving a 2022 Chevrolet Silverado westbound on Middle Country Road in Centereach when he  allegedly crossed over the double yellow lines and sideswiped a 2011 Toyota Camry that was in  the eastbound lanes. The impact caused the Camry, being driven by 66-year-old Virginia  Molkentin, to spin out of control. Guzman’s vehicle allegedly then proceeded to cross over into the eastbound lanes traffic, and crashed into a 2012 Ford Escape driven by 55-year-old Stacy  Carpenter.

Timothy Carpenter, the driver’s nephew, was the front seat passenger in the Ford  Escape at the time of the collision. Both Stacy and Timothy Carpenter were taken by ambulance  to Stony Brook University Hospital. Stacy Carpenter was treated for serious injuries he sustained  from the crash, and Timothy Carpenter died due to the injuries he sustained. Guzman and the other  driver, Virginia Molkentin were also transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where they  were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. While at the hospital, police officers allegedly  observed that Guzman was exhibiting signs that he was impaired by drugs.  

On May 8, Guzman was arraigned on the indictment before Supreme Court Justice, the  Honorable Timothy P. Mazzei for the charges of:  

One count of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a Class B felony;  

One count of Manslaughter in the Second Degree, a Class C felony;  

One count of Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree, a Class D felony;  One count of Aggravated Vehicular Assault; a Class C felony;  

Two counts of Assault in the Second Degree; a Class D violent felony;  Two counts of Vehicular Assault in the Second Degree, a Class E felony;  One count of Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs, an Unclassified misdemeanor; and  One count of Reckless Driving, an Unclassified misdemeanor.  

Judge Mazzei ordered Guzman held on $75,000 cash, $150,000 bond, $750,000 partially secured  bond and suspended his license. He is due back in court on June 21, 2023.



METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

What will it take for the country to push the pause button and then reset? We are a nation that is out of control. The pandemic has only underscored how out of control we are.

We are losing hundreds of young people every day due to fentanyl, heroin and suicide. The nation has declared that we have a national heroin epidemic but what is being done to address this tragic health concern that is killing more than 100,000 lives a year?

Yes, we are making Narcan more available but what about holistic residential treatment beds? There are no beds anywhere. Yes, a few for-profit programs have emerged in the midst of this crisis but what about the working class and working poor? How do they pay for evidence-based treatment for their children?

No one wants to challenge the insurance empire that is sentencing so many of our at- risk people to death. It is scandalous that an insurance gatekeeper with no training decides whether or not your son or daughter gets treatment! So many of these gatekeepers are clueless about addiction; our silence in this regard is deafening

How many more young people have to die before we say enough? If human life is such a priority, then challenge our paralyzed leadership to work together for systematic change in the treatment of substance use disorder and mental health.

Our social welfare system in Suffolk County needs to be overhauled department by department. Instead of empowering the broken and wounded to healing and change, our system is setting people up for failure. Your tax dollars are being wasted on a system that is inept and incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence among the people they are supposed to serve.

For more than 40 years in the trenches I have seen firsthand our destructive system at work I have seen countless homeless men set up for failure because we have no real transitional housing for them. We do not have enough case managers and social workers to assist them for so many of them are mentally ill and dependent.

The state is once again using fancy rhetoric to trick us with their new initiative to keep troubled youth at home. These troubled youth are young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who already have stolen cars, assaulted people and some are even in dangerous gangs. We have few to no mental health services in our local communities to support these young people and their families.

The few programs that do exist are being forced to close; soon we will have no help and no resources for families in need.

We are blessed to have a dynamic commissioner of social services in Suffolk County in the person of Frances Pierre. She is a talented and gifted professional who is being shackled by a legislature that lack the vision and commitment to the most vulnerable and broken among us. Our commissioner needs to be free to do her job. We need to raise our voices in support of her!

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Narcan kits will be placed in close proximity to automated external defibrillators in county facilities. Stock photo

A new bill sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has been approved by the county Legislature.

Her resolution requires kits of naloxone — or Narcan, its brand name — to be supplied in close proximity to automated external defibrillators  in all county facilities. The bill was co-sponsored by county Legislator Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park).

An April 4 press release stated that Narcan “is a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when administered in a timely manner.” Hahn believes this bill will help to improve the outcomes of the opioid overdoses seen in the county.

Hahn has been passionate about fighting the opioid epidemic for more than a decade now. In April of 2012, she sponsored a resolution which enabled police officers to administer Narcan to overdose victims. The press release for the current resolution noted, “According to SCPD statistics, patrol officers equipped with Narcan have saved thousands of lives in the 10 years since the [original] bill was enacted.”

Old Field resident Carole Trottere came up with the idea for this legislation and brought it to Hahn’s attention only a few months ago.    

“It’s really a no-brainer,” Trottere said. “Put them in wherever we have AEDs. … 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.”

Trottere has been reaching out to grieving parent groups. “You cannot believe how many groups there are on Long Island alone and nationally of grieving parents who have lost children to fentanyl and overdoses,” she said.

She has also been working with the Suffolk County Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit. Trottere lost her son, Alex Sutton, to a drug overdose in 2018, and last year planned an event in memory of him at his favorite pizza place. Police attended and carried out Narcan training at the event. This is something they would offer to anyone else who would like to plan an event in memory of a loved one.

According to the press release, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence also supports Hahn’s efforts.

She said this bill will be beneficial because Narcan kits need to be readily available. “What is frightening about the disease of addiction is that it can happen to anyone,” she added. “So it does need to be everywhere.” 

Hahn also mentioned that street drugs are now sometimes laced with fentanyl, so someone could be taking what they think is a simple Xanax, but it’s actually unexpectedly laced with fentanyl.

“It’s probably the person who unexpectedly overdoses that will benefit the most from its placement,” she said. “If it’s ubiquitously placed, then more people will be saved.”

Hahn said she’s working with local universities to build the pipeline of clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists that can help people battling mental health issues. She indicated the system is under-resourced, and she would like to work toward strengthening child, adolescent, and adult mental health in our communities.

Steve Chassman, of LICADD, shows attendees strips to test drugs for fentanyl at a Dec. 13 press conference in Port Jefferson. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) joined forces with the Westbury-based Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence to inform residents about the increased danger of opioid-related deaths during the holiday season and the threat of street drugs.

County Legislator Kara Hahn addresses attendees at the Dec. 13 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The legislator, treatment providers and family members of those who have died from opioid-related deaths, some holding posters featuring photos of their deceased loved ones, gathered at a press conference held outside Hahn’s Port Jefferson office on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the area is “rich in resources, and we are going to need them.” He listed some of the organizations that provide services 24 hours a day for those dealing with drug use and their families, such as Seafield Center of Westhampton Beach and Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson as well as LICADD. 

“We are here because it is absolutely necessary to let Long Islanders know the drug supply, not just heroin — cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, pressed pills — are tainted with fentanyl,” Chassman said.

He added that the death rate due to drug overdoses continues to rise, and for many families the holiday season is not a season of peace and joy.

“For families that are in the throes of substance use or opiate-use disorder, this is a time of isolation. This is a time of stigma. This is a time of financial insecurity, and we know that the rate itself, that of self-medication, increases exponentially,” Chassman said. “We’re having this press conference to let families know they’re not alone.”

Hahn said according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, winter is when drug-related deaths spike, most likely due to holiday gatherings or experiencing depression during the winter season. 

“The months of March, January and February, respectively, are traditionally the deadliest of the year for overdoses,” she said.

Hahn encouraged families to take advantage of the resources available to them.

“Too many families already face empty chairs at their tables, but there is always hope,” the county legislator said. “Recovery is possible.”

Carole Trottere, of Old Field, lost her son Alex Sutton to a heroin-fentanyl overdose in April 2018.

She said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration now refers to overdose deaths as poisoning. The DEA has stated that six out of 10 illegal pills tested had fentanyl.

“Using street drugs is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with your life,” Trottere said. “It’s not if it will kill you, it’s when.”

Trottere advised parents not to “hide their heads in the sand.” She said to talk to their children about the dangers of drug use and to reach out to an organization for help when needed.

Anthony Rizzuto, Seafield Center director of provider relations, said, “When I first got involved in this advocacy fight, we were at about 74,000 [deaths],” he said. “We’re looking at each other, how can we let this happen? We are now at 107,000.”

This number from the CDC, for the year ending January 2022, reflects the opioid-related deaths in the U.S.

Rizzuto said one of the challenges of providing help is the stigma attached to drug use, and people being hesitant to talk about it.

“There is no shame in getting help for the disease of addiction,” he said.

He reiterated how marijuana, cocaine and fake prescription pills often are laced with fentanyl.

“If you’re not getting your medication from a pharmacy with your name on the label, please be [suspicious],” he said. “Fentanyl kills.”

For information on how to get help, visit www.licadd.org, or call the hotline, 631-979-1700.

Above: Mark Murray, chief of the narcotics bureau for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Photo by Raymond Janis

Despite the pouring rain outside, dozens of locals gathered at Mount Sinai High School on Thursday, Oct. 13, for an educational forum on substance misuse prevention.

Hosted by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who chairs the county’s addiction prevention and support advisory panel, the event brought together various entities. In her presentation, Anker emphasized the outsized rate of drug-related fatalities in the area.

“Right now, the town of Brookhaven has the highest number of opioid deaths in Suffolk County — one of the highest in the state — and we have to do more,” she said. The legislator added, referring to the county government, “We’re trying, but it’s really up to the community. It’s up to the parents, kids and peers to do more and get us in a better place.”

Anker highlighted the need for drug addiction and prevention workshops, stating that these provide an outlet for community members to better prepare themselves in case of an emergency. She also noted that drug education has evolved in recent years, addressing victims’ needs rather than creating stigma. 

The county’s DASH [diagnostic, assessment and stabilization hub] program was cited by her as a model for responsible drug intervention. “When people overdose, they go to an emergency [room] at Stony Brook or Mather or St. Charles or one of the hospitals here in Suffolk County, but what do you do after?” Anker said. “Before, they would just go home or go somewhere. There would be no support, no direction. Now there is.” She added, “New York State is taking that example and making more throughout the state.”

Also present at this community forum was Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), chair of the town’s Drug Prevention Coalition. He considered the coalition a valuable public resource for Brookhaven residents.

“That’s a model of getting the school districts involved, of all kinds of community organizations from a grassroots level, so that we can really get down to that family level,” he said. For Kornreich, the goal of the coalition is to “be accessible and get people connected to the services they need and bring prevention programs to schools … so that we can break that cycle of use and abuse before it starts.”

Another essential component of the forum was its presentations on drug awareness. Among the speakers throughout the night was Mark Murray, chief of the narcotics bureau for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Murray delivered a detailed presentation on the dangers of fentanyl, which he said has become increasingly problematic for county communities.

“Since 2016 here in Suffolk, fentanyl has viciously made its mark,” he said. “We have easily averaged over 300 fatal overdoses a year here in Suffolk, due primarily to the presence of fentanyl.”

Murray characterized fentanyl as a highly potent substance, requiring just “a grain or two” to deliver a lethal dose. According to the narcotics chief, fentanyl is found in nearly every drug on the black market.

“Fentanyl is popular, it’s addictive — and there’s no such thing as a scrupulous drug dealer,” he said.

Given the frequency of fentanyl-related overdoses in Suffolk, Murray stressed the importance of the Good Samaritan Law. This New York State statute protects victims and witnesses of overdose events. 

“It covers a witness or a victim of any medical episode — but more specifically a drug or alcohol overdose — who decides to call 911 either for themselves or that third person,” he said. “It’s not a trick. It’s statutory. It was codified by the state because they wanted to encourage people to realize the importance of the situation and to pick up the phone, call and get help.”

Following the presentations from Murray and other speakers, attendees were given training instructions in naloxone.

To learn more about the addiction resources, including emergency hotline numbers, visit the Long Island Addiction Resource Center website: longislandaddictionresourcecenter.org.

Stock photo

To end 2021, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to approve Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) plan to increase access to fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Suffolk County experienced 337 opioid overdose deaths in 2020. The data for 2021 is unavailable.

Signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) Dec. 28, the bill came just days following a warning from the national Drug Enforcement Administration that, during 2021 alone, it had seized enough fentanyl to give a lethal dose to every American.

In response, the Legislature approved a plan to make fentanyl detection strips more readily available to residents, thus helping to prevent overdoses. 

Through the legislation, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will soon be required to include fentanyl test strips with naloxone kits distributed during department trainings on how to use the opioid antidote. Increasing access to fentanyl detection strips will enable recipients to test drug doses for the presence of this deadly synthetic substance prior to using the drugs tested.

“Opioids kill, that is why I pushed for the county to become certified to provide naloxone trainings that put this life-saving antidote in more hands; fentanyl kills, that is why I am pushing for increased access to test strips, which will give this life-saving tool greater reach,” Hahn said.  “Allowing users the ability to know if they are about to put a drug in their body that also contains fentanyl will save lives and begin to reduce the increasing overdose deaths devastating our community.”

In a statement, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence commended Hahn and the county government for addressing the realities of the dual pandemic of the opioid crisis, fueled by fear and anxieties of COVID-19.

“The distribution of fentanyl test strips and continued widespread distribution of naloxone (Narcan) meets this public health challenge head on with the sole and primary objective of saving lives in Suffolk County,” said Steve Chassman, LICADD executive director. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures to aid so many individuals and families struggling with opioid use disorder.”

Deaths attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that according to the Nation Institutes of Health is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, have been steadily rising since 2013. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013,” the last year for which complete data is available. The agency goes on to report “provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The link between fentanyl and increasing overdose deaths also concerned the DEA, which in September issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the United States that often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. 

In its advisory, the DEA reported it had “determined that four out of 10 DEA-tested fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl — an amount that is considered to be a lethal dose.”

“What we are offering through this new policy is a harm reduction strategy,” Hahn added.  “Addiction is a disease that must not be allowed to become a death sentence, which, as more and more fentanyl has been released into our communities, it has become for many who might otherwise have recovered if given a chance.”

On Nov. 17, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.

This is an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before. NCHS also reported that 64% of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, an almost 50% jump from the prior year. 

Local municipalities are already starting to utilize the new testing strips and have been in contact with the county to retrieve them. 

According to Fred Leute, chief of Port Jefferson’s code enforcement, the village has ordered the new fentanyl testing strips through the county “but it takes a bit of time to get,” he said, noting that they are in possession of the basic kit that was provided previously through the DOHS.

“All of our personnel are fully trained,” he added. “They glove up with the plastic gloves so they don’t touch anything on scene.”