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Nov 12, 2018 10:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

South Fork Opioid Death Count Drops This Year, May Be Due To Collective Action From Local Groups

New Hope Rising Therapy and Wellness Center is starting a bereavement group for those who lost a loved one to addiction beginning November 13. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Nov 25, 2018 11:58 AM

The opioid epidemic so far has taken significantly fewer lives on the South Fork this year than last—a statistic that may be a direct result, at least in part, of the community effectively mobilizing to combat the crisis.

In the Town of Southampton, the number of opioid-related deaths dropped from 19 deaths in 2017 to just six this year, as of November 8, according to Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki. On the same November date last year, in comparison, the town had already recorded 17 deaths.

However, one of the six overdose deaths this year in Southampton took place as recently as November 6 in a Riverside hotel room, according to Chief Skrynecki.

Last year’s total number was “almost four times the number from the year before,” according to a Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force press release from June.

The Town of East Hampton had three opioid-related deaths this year, as of November 8, matching the number from last year, according to the East Hampton Town Police Department. Heads of the department could not be reached for more information on their efforts to tackle the issue.

Despite the numbers, opioid addiction is still a major problem on the East End, one that affects countless families.

“It’s consistent and it’s rampant. To call it an epidemic is mild. It’s a crisis,” said Diane Newman, director of admissions at The Dunes East Hampton rehabilitation center.

Various local organizations have responded to the epidemic in an effort to bring the community together to find ways to help those in need and prevent further tragedies.

Some organizations, including the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force, Hugs Inc. and SAFE in Sag Harbor, have helped to inspire those affected by opioid addiction to speak out against the issue—a topic that people tended to keep quiet about in the past—and helped people suffering from addiction to seek help, in addition to offering other drug and alcohol prevention outreach programs.

Family members are also looking for a way to cope, expressing the need for accessible bereavement groups to local organizations such as New Hope Rising.

The Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force was formed in October 2017 to help bring the crisis to light. It has held public forums where people came in big numbers to share stories of addiction and loss, and suggestions on what could be done. It also held youth forums and a medical forum to hear from specific groups in the community.

The task force disbanded in July, having completed its work by presenting a draft report to the Town Board. The Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee was then established as a smaller group to implement the recommendations made in the report, including extensive education and awareness campaigns.

According to Chief Skrynecki, a committee member, he and other members are currently working on a public service announcement film related to drug overdoses, spearheaded by Connie Conway, the director of communications in the Southampton Town supervisor’s office.

In the last year, Southampton Town Police strengthened their investigation efforts to dig deeper into the cause of overdoses and the sources of the drugs, possibly providing at least one reason for the lower death rate in the Town of Southampton.

Chief Skrynecki said that they now send detectives to the scene of every overdose instead of uniformed police officers, as they did in the past, to interview family members and possible survivors for information on the dealer. The willingness to share critical information comes at virtually no consequence for the overdose victim, but promises cannot be made that there are absolutely no repercussions, according to Police Captain Larry Schurek.

Capt. Schurek also noted that officers have been carrying Narcan—a brand of naloxone medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an overdose—for two to three years now, and while it has saved numerous lives, more needs to be done to combat addiction before it gets to the point of an overdose.

“Narcan was saving a lot, but we were getting repeat overdoses,” Capt. Schurek said. “People are addicted to the drug, and a lot of the time that outweighs the [fear of] death.”

Since realizing the police were saving the same people over and over, the town’s task force began a program called “Bridge the Gap.” Police officers or family members voluntarily connect overdose survivors with task force treatment subcommittee member Karen Martin, the acting executive director of Alternatives Counseling Services in Southampton, who then works to get the victim necessary rehabilitation treatment.

“We wanted to extend beyond rescuing and lend a hand in getting that person treatment,” Chief Skrynecki said.

Narcan education and training has been receiving more attention within the community because of its effectiveness in saving lives from overdoses. Sag Harbor’s coalition SAFE, which stands for Substance-Abuse-Free Environment, hosted its fourth Narcan Training Session and Rx Drug Disposal event at Pierson Middle-High School on Thursday. About 20 community members attended, and they each received a Narcan kit to take home.

“Our goal is to equip as many people as we can with Narcan—not only to help someone they may be living with, but we hear countless stories of people saving the lives of strangers in public with Narcan,” SAFE Program Director Kym Laube said.

Funeral directors also may be seeing a decrease in overdose deaths across the East End.

Ken Rothwell, a funeral director of four funeral homes that serve the community from Wading River to Southampton Town, said that the rate of overdose deaths has dropped at his facilities.

“As of one year ago, we were at our highest level of handling fatalities,” he said. “We were doing approximately two funerals a month, so 24 deaths a year, strictly due to overdoses.” That comes out to about 17 percent of the total number of funerals his four facilities conducted last year.

He added that those deaths were people representing every generation and socioeconomic background. “We’re burying kids, we’re burying adults, and we’re burying seniors,” he said.

On the East End, he is the director of O’Connell Rothwell Funeral Home in Southampton, Werner Rothwell Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach, and Scott-Rothwell Funeral Home in Hampton Bays.

Mr. Rothwell credits the decrease in overdose deaths to law enforcement officials and emergency medical workers, as well as to families of victims who have become more proactive within the last couple of years.

“I have had more families who have started counseling sessions and spoke out publicly,” he said. “They’ve attended town hearings and got the government more involved to assist people. Now, in the last year, I’ve seen that assistance helping.”

Ms. Laube, also the executive director of HUGS Inc., said she saw more of the families she works with coming forward publicly as well.

“About five years ago is really when the parents started to put a face on [the epidemic] and say, ‘Yes, I’ve lost my child,’” she said. “When we took a look at these parents, they were professional folks coming from families that appeared to be doing really well.”

Her nonprofit, based in Westhampton Beach, is dedicated to spreading awareness of all forms of high-risk behaviors and how to prevent them.

Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton Village is not seeing the same decline as Rothwell’s funeral homes.

Dominick Abbate has been the funeral director since 2014 and said he has seen an increase every year. When he first started, he said opioid-related deaths were “almost a rarity.”

His father, John Abbate, bought the funeral home in 1990, so their family has been in the area since then. Now as a funeral director, Mr. Abbate said he personally knows most of the people they service.

“When I first came into the business, I knew it would be a hard job, but I didn’t know there would be the number of people this age. Nobody should be losing their kids in their 20s and 30s,” Mr. Abbate said.

“It obviously runs the whole gamut, and not limited to just young people, but it’s basically people that shouldn’t be dying. It takes a toll on me. It’s emotionally draining for me, and it’s hard on the family.”

He said the recent community mobilization may help subdue the crisis, mentioning the Southampton task force. “I think there’s tremendous steps being taken to bring it to light. The first step is having a conversation then putting things into action. I do think it will help,” he said.

Some grief support groups are already in place to help those affected by addiction loss in the East End community, but the founders of New Hope Rising Therapy and Wellness Center in Westhampton Beach felt that the need was still there.

As a result, they created the Healing Addiction Loss Group at the wellness center, an eight-week, closed program offered to adults to help them recover from such loss. It is held weekly on Tuesdays, beginning on November 13.

“It’s something that we have been talking about doing for a while, but just seeing the growing needs of the community, we’re, like, ‘Wow, we really need to do something sooner than later,’ and we really felt like it just couldn’t wait any longer,” said Lauren McNamara, COO and co-founder of New Hope Rising.

“This group is something that I think has been needed for a long time,” said Jean Behrens, a licensed clinical social worker who will facilitate the bereavement group. “With the last few years, it’s been just incredible how many losses have been because of drug addiction.” She added that she has been facilitating support groups for 30 years and specifically bereavement groups a number of times in other facilities.

Ms. McNamara said later in an email that the wellness center is also planning to start a bereavement group for children who have lost a loved one to addiction within the next few months. Danielle Bruschi, CEO and co-founder of New Hope Rising, said it is sometimes “overlooked what can benefit children and teens.”

“There’s so much stigma attached to drug addiction and a lot of people are afraid to talk about it,” Ms. Behrens said on the need for the bereavement groups. “It’s a place where they can actually talk about it, and let it out. Because it’s important to let your story out, whatever your story is.”

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On all other local issues & concerns, something is very wrong with Skrynecki.
By themarlinspike (314), southampton on Nov 23, 18 9:29 AM
There are more junkies than ever and now they are being saved by Narcan. Right away the SHTPD and the task force want to take credit. Pathetic
By chief1 (2702), southampton on Nov 23, 18 10:01 AM
I'm hopeful the reduced number of fatalities are an indication that the focus on the severe consequences of opioid addiction is working. A better indication to me would be the number of times Narcan is administered. If the number of deaths has been cut, but the number of times Narcan is administered has increased significantly, we will know how much of an impact the good work is having. What I am pleased to see is the number of arrests of dealers of these various drugs.

By roverton (55), Westhampton on Nov 23, 18 10:24 AM
1 member liked this comment
Almost every day I heard of a new young person doing drugs..ALMOST every day !! and many are in 9th grade, kids that you would NEVER NEVER NEVER even thought they would do drugs I think we have more young drug addict then ever :( is really hearth broken

By Mate (39), Southampton on Nov 23, 18 5:37 PM
BLESS the hearts of ALL those who are working so hard to make a difference with this terrible disease. Too many good people have been lost or affected.
By toes in the water (815), southampton on Nov 24, 18 8:30 AM
Opioid related deaths are on the decline because officers now carry Narcan
By Win sky (46), Southampton on Nov 24, 18 12:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
I didn’t read anything in the article specifying that the decline in deaths are due to officers carrying and administering Narcan. It’s a group effort by all.
By toes in the water (815), southampton on Nov 25, 18 7:00 AM
Toes In the water? Really fo you think they are going g to give credit to narcan? The drug rehab business is run by ignorant, greedy, arrogant dirt bags. The rehabilitation business has such a low success rate because there is no money in cures only treatment. imo
By chief1 (2702), southampton on Nov 25, 18 11:57 PM
175 bags of heroine found in the WHB Chiefs car? Doesn’t sound like anyone is getting a handle on this problem.
By Dee1961 (10), East Quogue on Nov 26, 18 7:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
The 2018 numbers are being fudged. There is no way it went down almost 70% in one year.
By SlimeAlive (1180), Southampton on Nov 29, 18 5:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
You have this twisted up in numbers. First, yes the police are carrying Narcan and yes they are administering more and more then previous years. Yes the numbers in the South Fork have dropped in the deaths, but this article does not give the number or reversals which has increased by almost %87 percent from previous years. There have been a total of 937 deaths due to Opioid overdose in Suffolk County alone this year. Big deal that the South Fork only had 6. It's still 6 too many from Drugs. ...more
By yanks27titles (15), eastport on Dec 5, 18 1:59 PM
What crime do you charge people who overdose with?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (6458), HAMPTON BAYS on Dec 5, 18 2:14 PM
Nothing, because they won’t call the police
By Fred s (2494), Southampton on Dec 5, 18 2:18 PM
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