Mr. Scott, a longtime News 12 journalist, lost his granddaughter Hallie Rae Ulrich, a Pierson graduate, to an opioid overdose in 2017. Since then, Mr. Scott has been an advocate for more awareness and treatment options in the fight against opioids not just on the East End, but now also in Long Island towns including Islip, Huntington, Oyster Bay and Brookhaven. Mr. Scott, a member of Southampton Town’s Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee, shared updates on the town’s fight against opioids.
How much progress has been made digging into the issue of opioid addiction on the South Fork going back to 2017?
I think we’ve made good progress. We’ve concentrated on public awareness. Our numbers, when we first started keeping track the year my granddaughter died, there were 19 fatal overdoses we were able to count in Southampton Town. After a year of work with public service announcements, town meetings we held at several high schools, discussing the problem with parents and putting it out on a lot of websites that were available and Facebook and Twitter, we were able to count only six fatal overdoses in 2018. Six is still too many, but it does show that when there’s public awareness the numbers do come down. There’s a lot of factors involved — Narcan training is better than ever, the availability is better than previous years, there have been a lot of police arrests of heroin dealers across the East End, and of course there’s public awareness and public service announcements on the radio and on TV. But we have a way to go.
How pervasive is the problem still in our region?
The numbers are coming down across Nassau and Suffolk so far in 2019, but I think it just may just be a blip. Eventually the numbers are going to come back. It’s a tough fight and our greatest fear is that people will say, ‘Oh, what a terrible thing,’ and then forget about it and go back to their everyday lives and the problem will get worse. We’ve got to work hard to keep it in front of everybody and make it a priority.
Can you give me an update on the current task force’s activities?
We need more treatment facilities. We need what they call in the state a clubhouse facility, something that we wanted to imitate further west: the “Thrive Center.” It’s designed for people who have been addicted to heroin or other substances and are now sober or wanting to stay sober and they want to associate with other people and help each other in a thriving environment. We’re working with OASAS [New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services] to set it up in Southampton Town somewhere. People draw strength from each other and there are counselors available. It’s a place where they can hang out and not think about drugs. We just finished the PSA campaign for all the cable companies and radio stations on the East End. We’re going to have a candlelight vigil on May 11. We’ve located two or three good locations that could be Thrive Centers or clubhouses to set up under the town’s facilities that would be a place for those who are formally addicted to help each other. That’s the status right now. We’re getting good cooperation from our school districts as well. We’re having a parent meeting at the Greek Orthodox Church Dormition of the Virgin Mary. We’re going to talk about warning signs, what to look for. It’s going to be a good program. Parents are all invited — every parent in the Town of Southampton and especially Sag Harbor, which is close to my heart. It’s where Hallie lived and went to school.
What are some challenges that exist?
We need more treatment facilities. You have to build and open it somewhere, and that involves zoning. And that’s one of the toughest nuts to crack in increasing the number of treatment facilities on Long Island. We’re trying to get close to the zoning boards in the towns to help them understand, get them to do the groundwork. When someone asks for treatment, they’re no longer a threat or danger to the public. They want to be helped.
Recalling last year’s candlelight vigil, around this time last year, what do you think that accomplished?
I thought that to get families who were affected to vocalize their feelings and to share was very good. It was an introduction to how terrible this epidemic is. It made us feel — and I know a lot of people said this to me — that they weren’t alone in facing this problem.
What is your hope for the upcoming candlelight vigil?
I would like to see more people participate. The last candlelight vigil had a little bit of rain and I think it dampened the turnout a little bit. I hope people will talk about their loved ones. Even if they haven’t lost a loved one, they should come and participate. We’re all in this together.
Southampton Town’s second annual Candle Light Vigil will be held Saturday, May 11, at Good Ground Park, 9A Squiretown Road in Hampton Bays, from to 7 to 9 p.m. A roundtable discussion titled “The Power of Parents” is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Greek Orthodox Church Dormition of the Virgin Mary, 111 St. Andrews Road in Southampton. The roundtable includes dinner and RSVPs are required to email@example.com.