Alex Sutton died of a heroin/fentanyl overdose on April 8, 2018. That year he was one of nearly 600 people on Long Island whose death was caused by a fatal overdose. This year statistics are no better, in fact Suffolk County has the MOST O.D. deaths of any county in New York State, with more than 500 deaths so far.
Alex’s mother, Carole Trottere, is hosting an event to mark what would have been his 35th birthday by giving out a FREE slice of pizza and a drink at her son’s favorite pizza place, Station Pizza, located at 1099 N. Country Road in Stony Brook on Saturday, Oct. 29 from noon to 5 p.m. The offer is for the first 100 customers. The Suffolk County Police Department will also be present to give out Narcan, with training instruction. Trottere hopes this will help raise awareness of the fentanyl epidemic. And help save lives.
“Every death from overdose affects so many people…parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and colleagues. It’s like a spider web of grief for those left behind,” said Trottere. “Fentanyl is the deadliest drug to ever hit the streets and is responsible for nearly 70% of nationwide drug deaths. I want to plead with anyone thinking about it to not spin that Roulette wheel. Don’t take a chance. It may sound silly to say that death is permanent, but it’s the truth. There’s no do-over.” For more information call 631-275-5277.
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.
“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.”
Port Jefferson code officers James Murdocco and Brent Broere are quick thinkers and a dynamic team, and thanks to their efforts, a young man who suffered a drug overdose is alive today.
Despite being delayed by a passing train in late December, when the constables arrived at the scene of a parked car on Belle Terre Road, they sprung into action. Broere had prepared a Narcan dose, the drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid-related overdose, on the way. When the pair arrived at the parking lot of Fairfield at Port Jefferson apartment complex, Murdocco took the syringe and raced to the car.
“This young man regained his life directly in front of everyone.”
“He’s pretty much done,” Murdocco recalled thinking that Dec. 22 night when he saw the victim behind the already opened driver’s seat door, whose head was leaning back against the headrest. He said the female passenger was “worked up,” and even tried hitting the victim’s chest in an effort to spark a sign of life. Murdocco climbed in the car, straddling the unresponsive victim next to the girl who was letting out harrowing screams at the comatose man, hoping for a response.
“He was actually purple,” a witness said of the victim. “The situation heightened when no pulse was noted for some time. This incident brought fear to my family — especially during the holiday season. My young ones were in shock.”
Murdocco administered the first dose of Narcan in the victim’s nostril, but it had little effect. Broere loaded up a second, stronger dose and his partner tried the other nostril, completely emptying the syringe in one shot. The victim responded so well he was able to exit the car and put on his own jacket.
“This young man regained his life directly in front of everyone,” the witness wrote in a letter to Port Jefferson Village, discussing the buzz it stirred and pleading for proclamations to recognize the officers’ heroic efforts. “This truly was a holiday blessing. Although a tragedy, these officers saved a tragedy from becoming a parent’s worse nightmare.”
The constables were honored by Port Jefferson Village during a Jan. 3 board meeting for their actions that night. Code officers Michael Hanley and John Vinicombe, who arrived on the scene after Murdocco and Broere, were also recognized.
According to Murdocco, the officers are able to hear 911 calls made in the Port Jeff area, and are encouraged to respond to calls requiring immediate aid, oftentimes faster than Suffolk County police officers. He and his partner were in their patrol car when they heard the call, and planned to make their way to the scene, briefly waiting on the south side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks on Main Street as a train went through. While they waited, they encountered acounty police officer who was also headed to the scene, but who did not have the equipment or training to administer Narcan. Village constables are not required to undergo Narcan training, but they are encouraged to do so, and luckily, Murdocco and Broere voluntarily took the course on their own time.
“The chief and the deputy chief and the mayor did a really good job by pairing me and Jimmy up together.”
— Brent Broere
“These two officers were absolutely incredible,” the eyewitness said. “The officer that jumped into the car acted so fast that he had no protective gloves, and was exposed with the young man’s blood. Several neighbors asked to assist, yet he declined, and was able to clean out all of the areas exposed.”
According to accounts from both officers and an eyewitness, the scene was emotional and tense. Murdocco, who works in a state detention center in addition to his duties in Port Jeff, used the word “gruesome” to describe what he saw.
Broere, a Northport High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran in a scout sniper platoon, had been deployed on multiple combat tours and was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot through both of his legs. He returned to Long Island about six months ago after spending eight years in North Carolina working in various law enforcement capacities.
“The chief and the deputy chief and the mayor did a really good job by pairing me and Jimmy up together,” Broere said. “We’re a good match. As partners, we kind of know what the other one is thinking before he has to say it. In a situation like that seconds count.”
The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.
On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.
“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.
Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.
This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.
The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.
The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.
“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”
While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.
“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”
Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.
“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”
The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.
“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”
Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.
For five years the Suffolk County Department of Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Project has been doing their part to help community members save lives. To commemorate the project’s fifth anniversary an Opioid Overdose Prevention class was held July 31 at the William J. Lindsay County Complex in Hauppauge.
The class trained participants in the essential steps to handling an opioid overdose: recognizing the overdose, administering intranasal Narcan, and what to do while the Emergency Medical Service teams are en-route. These training procedures meet the New York State Department of Health requirements, and at completion of the course, students received a certificate along with an emergency resuscitation kit, which contains the Narcan Nasal Spray.
Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is administered to reverse an opioid overdose, and has saved many lives. Before the project was put into place, only advanced Emergency Medical Services providers could administer Narcan to overdose victims.
“The No. 1 incentive is to receive a free Narcan kit,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, EMS medical director and clinical director of the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program, said. “That’s really the draw.”
He said the class appeals to many people in the field, such as nurses or treatment professionals.
AnnMarie Csorny, director of the department of health’s community mental hygiene services, said another motivation to take the class is “to be better informed, and to have a kit available on you that you would be able to use should you see someone. It doesn’t always have to be your loved one, it could be someone in the community.”
Starting in 2012, the department of health services’ division of emergency medical services has held more than 278 classes. Within this time, approximately 9,000 participants have learned how to recognize an opioid overdose and administer Narcan. Since its start, Narcan has saved the lives of over 3,000 individuals.
Those who have been trained in administering Narcan include EMTs, school district staff and opioid users themselves. The program has developed from how to handle an overdose into adding a discussion of opioid addiction.
“Initially it was just about recognizing signs and symptoms of overdose, how Naloxone is packaged, what it does, what it doesn’t do, what to expect when you administer it, and how to get a refill,” Pigott said.
Now, the program integrates treatment aspects along with prevention techniques.
“I don’t wanna say we just give them Narcan and say, ‘OK here’s how to give it out.’ Pigott said. “I’d like to give them a little bit more background on the epidemic and how we got to where we are, and resources. You have a lot of parents in there who are anxious that they have a son or daughter who is hooked on this stuff. They don’t just want Narcan, they want help for their son or daughter.”
Taking it a step further, in 2016 the county health department started to work with local hospitals to get Narcan kits to those who are at risk of an opioid overdose. They also help educate them along with their families on the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of an opioid overdose.
Suffolk County also operates, with the help of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a 24/7 substance abuse hotline at 631-979-1700. The line was established in April 2016 for crises, and has received 1,217 calls as of May 31.
On the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program’s impact, Csorny believes it’s a start to tackling a huge issue.
“I think it’s certainly opened the discussion of lines of communication,” Csorny said. “It has, I believe, empowered people to get the support they need and to talk about the things that are not there.”
While the program has educated hundreds of people, and saves many lives, Pigott knows more needs to be done in handling the opioid epidemic.
“I’m realizing that Narcan isn’t the answer,” Pigott said. “It’s a nice thing to say, ‘Hey I got a save, this person was turning blue, not breathing, and then I squirted the stuff up the nose and we got them back.’ But then on the backside of that, the person wakes up and they’re like, ‘Ugh, what just happened to me?’ and then all of a sudden withdrawal kicks in.”
Pigott said after the withdrawal kicks in the users will decide to get treatment or not to, and if they chose the latter they will most likely start using again — administrating Narcan isn’t going to change that.
“That’s the biggest problem we have: it’s a quick fix, and you’re really not fixing anything,” Pigott said. “It’s much more complicated than just giving out Narcan.”
The next step in handling the opioid epidemic, according to Pigott, is getting better treatment options. He said most of the county’s treatment programs are abstinence-based; detox programs in learning how to be drug-free.
“It might be effective at the time but once you’re out of the program it’s easy to get tempted, easy to relapse,” Pigott said. “I think treatment needs to be addressed more and I think there needs to be more options for people.”
Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.
“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”
The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.
“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”
Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.
A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.
Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.
“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”
On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.
“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”
Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.
“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”
As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.
On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.
“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”
“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”
That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.
Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.
“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”
The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.
“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”
Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.
More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.
Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.
“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”
This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.
“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”
“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”
Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.
“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”
Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.
Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.
“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”
On what would have been Anthony Michael Forte’s 25th birthday Oct. 8, Debbie Carpinone stood over a cake decorated with a photo of her son and icing that spelled out “Happy Birthday In Heaven Anthony There’s A Light That Will Never Go Out” and led family and friends in singing to him before taking a brief moment to reflect and pray to herself.
All were gathered at VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point to honor and celebrate her son’s memory with live music, catered treats, a Chinese auction and raffle prizes for the 2nd annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser.
For Carpinone — who lost Forte to a heroin overdose on May 2, 2015 — getting through this particular day without him is still a new challenge, but one that’s led her down a path of keeping active, doing good things for others and providing hope and charity to her community.
Last year, in the wake of Anthony’s death, she set up Anthony’s Angels to help raise money for Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, various treatment programs, as well as establish a scholarship in his name at Mount Sinai High School, which is geared toward someone who has overcome a personal obstacle. Carpinone, who works as a teaching assistant for the Mount Sinai Elementary School, was able to give $1,000 to Matthew Kirby this past June and help him pay for college in Rhode Island.
“Anthony always wanted to go to school, but due to his addiction, he never got the chance to go,” Carpinone said. “He just was always in and out of rehabs, and sober houses.”
Now, she continues to keep herself busy in different ways, by striving to do something good in his memory, like the scholarship.
“Matthew [Kirby] was pretty much one of the only kids who really wrote from the heart, about losing his grandparents, and he has suffered a lot of loss as far as family members … and I felt connected to his family just by reading his essay,” she said. “I’m glad I went with my gut and chose him, because he’s just a wonderful kid.”
She wanted this year’s fundraiser to benefit the next scholarship and hopes that she’ll be able to give it out to two students in 2017. Because the event happened to fall on his birthday this year, she also wanted to throw a party he would’ve appreciated.
“Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”
“He loved all the old Hollywood legends,” said Carpinone, who filled the room with huge cutout standees of Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn, and stocked the tables with photos of icons like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. She said that caterer Crazy Crepe Café even provided an Elvis-themed peanut butter and banana crepe.
“Everybody just came together, and it’s so nice to know that there’s still good people out there, and people that still want to do good things,” the mother said.
Long tables were covered with over 100 prizes from local businesses and attendees, including a $25 gift card to Setauket Pastaria, a glam girl Marilyn basket, a Mercedes Benz donation and a kid’s pedal car.
As local band Remedy played high-energy covers of David Bowie, The Knack and Weezer, pictures of Forte in what appeared to be his happiest days adorned the tables and walls, and had many reminiscing about him.
“He was a very special person,” said Dolores Franklin, Forte’s aunt. “He was very charismatic, talented. I can’t say enough. He loved to act, liked to do skits … he brought us a lot of laughter. And no matter how awful you looked, he’d always tell you you were beautiful. He made you feel good.”
She said that there was certainly a big hole in the family’s hearts, having lost such a huge presence.
“I just wish that one of us could’ve gotten through to him, and could’ve let him know how special he really was,” she said, “because I don’t think he knew how great he was.”
Carpinone wants to get rid of the stigma around heroin and those who get hooked on it, because her son didn’t look like a drug addict, didn’t come from a terrible family and wasn’t a bad person. As overdoses become more and more common across Long Island, it’s become very clear that drugs don’t know who you are, and addiction can latch itself onto anybody — a fact that more and more people are becoming aware of.
“Debbie’s son’s death was my first eye-opening experience to heroin,” said Kelly Amantea, Carpinone’s friend. “It never touched my life, my family, or my heart prior to that. It just never affected me. I knew nothing about it. I lived in my own little drug-free bubble.”
She said for her, a lot of awareness came out of the tragic event.
“I do find that the community as a whole is starting to wrap its arms around this,” she said. “I’m hoping that there’s more attention paid to this because it’s affecting more and more families — more and more lives — and I want the cure and the remedy to catch up with the epidemic … they’re so far apart right now.”
Amantea added she’d never been to a funeral like Forte’s before and believes every middle school kid should be dragged to a funeral of someone who died this way, to open children’s eyes to the harsh reality.
“It rocked me to my core and I don’t think these kids really understand what it’s like for the families that have to carry this,” she said. “That drug is Russian roulette. Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”
The fundraiser raised $220 for Hope House Ministries and $1,500 for the scholarship.
This week’s issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers are set up a little differently.
Suffolk County has one of the highest rates of death from heroin and opioid overdoses in New York State, and we feel this growing drug abuse problem deserves a special journalistic spotlight. So we dedicated this issue to looking at the different angles of approaching the heroin and opioid problem. In this week’s paper, you will find facts: How much the substance abuse trend has grown throughout the past few years; how our local communities, governments, police departments and residents have adapted to fight back against this movement; and reflections from recovering addicts and parents who have lost children to drug overdoses.
Medical professionals, law enforcement and government officials gathered at Stony Brook University this past weekend to have an open and honest dialogue about the growing opioid problem facing the North Shore and the rest of Suffolk County.
The complexity of the problem and how it relates to communities across the county was the topic of the discussion Oct. 1. A common theme among the speakers was opioid addiction should be treated like a legitimate medical crisis and not a moral failing.
Dr. Constantine Ioannou, director of Stony Brook Medical Center’s Adult Inpatient Unit addressed the current opioid crisis in the United States and specifically in Suffolk County during the event.
“This is not the first opioid epidemic in the United States — this is one of many,” Ioannou said. He likened the current state of opioid prescribing and subsequent widespread addiction to a period in the late 1800s when morphine was first developed. He said doctors overprescribed the powerful painkiller and, in turn, opioid dependence skyrocketed.
The director traced the origin of the current crisis back to two events in 1995. Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, began marketing OxyContin, its version of the powerful opioid oxycodone, to doctors. In addition the American Pain Society, an organization dedicated to advocating for public policies to reduce pain-related issues, named pain as the fifth vital sign. Like the other four — pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate and blood pressure —pain would be monitored in patients from then on. Pain was the only one of those five vital signs that is completely subjective and based on what a patient tells a nurse or doctor, Ioannou said.
Those two events, in accordance with nurse ratings and even payment being tied to patient satisfaction and reduction, created an environment of overprescribing, Ioannou said. He also said training of doctors in pain management needs to be addressed — he graduated from medical school in 1985 with “zero” training in pain management.
“There are states in the United States where there are more prescriptions for opiate pain medications than there are people — this is a staggering number,” Ioannou said.
Jermaine Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, also spoke and reiterated some of what Ioannou said regarding the United States’ views on pain management.
“I’ve had friends from other countries say that unless you come into the E.R. with an arm missing, you’re not going to get a prescription that you could get here for having a root canal,” Jones said. “We make up about 5 percent of the world’s population yet we consume about 80 percent of the prescription opioid [painkillers].”
Jones is involved in a study called Risks and Benefits of Overdose Education and Naloxone Prescribing to Heroin Users and spoke about some of his findings. Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.
“We’re trying to better understand how to tease apart ways to attenuate what people like about opioids,” Jones said of the five-year study, which is currently in its second year.
He said the study was created to monitor people who are administered naloxone and see if it is being used for the correct purposes. One concern in the creation of an overdose reversal drug is that users will be more confident in their ability to combat an overdose and may decide not to call 911 if that day ever comes. Other potential unintended consequences of naloxone, including how to deal with a user who may be irate after being saved from an overdose and is now “dope sick” and without the expensive drug they just bought, are the focus of the study. They are also researching some potential new medications or existing ones that could work in accordance with opioids to reduce pain, while reducing the effects that lead to addiction.
“We know that detox by itself is actually one of the highest risk factors for opioid overdose because you’re tolerance decreases,” Jones said. “So once someone comes out of a detox program they swear they’re never going to touch this stuff again, but relapse is very, very common. So they use again thinking that if they were using two bags before, they can continue using two bags now that they’ve gotten out, but their physiological tolerance has decreased and people overdose as a result.”
Ioannou indicated he’d like to see changes in treatment options for addicts.
“We treat all addiction by the same model,” he said. “You have a five-day detox, 28-day rehab and you have an after care that is all based on 12 steps. That is the model of care in the United States. We need to realize with a complex disease, you need a complex set of interventions.”
Suffolk County Police Department Deputy Sheriff Mike Kern is an expert in recognizing drug users. He called overdoses the most powerful “advertisement” for drug dealers because it is a clear indication of how strong their product is. He echoed sentiments from both doctors about the dangers of overprescribing and to what it can lead.
“Why can a doctor prescribe an OxyContin to a 16-year-old or a 15-year-old who just had a root canal?” Kern asked. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”