The sun may have set for the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force, but the town is still shining a light on the problem of opioid addiction.
The Southampton Town Board, which set up the task force in late 2017, voted two weeks ago to end its tenure after the 42-member panel delivered its final report and suggestions for solutions to the board in June. The town board replaced it with a new, permanent group, the Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee, which has been asked to develop a strategy for enacting the task force’s suggestions.
“The task force was set up with a very specific charge, which was to develop a set of recommendations to be implemented, and to make those recommendations to the town board by June of 2018,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said this week. “It wasn’t so much that we were disbanding it, it was that it had a limited charge to begin with. There continues to be an ongoing struggle in the community and we will continue to work on this issue.”
The 16-member committee consists of co-chairs Nancy Lynott, the director of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau, and Mark Epley, the executive director of the Seafield Center. They are joined by Mr. Schneiderman and former News 12 journalist Drew Scott, who has been a vocal advocate for victims of opioid addiction and their families since he lost his granddaughter, Pierson High School graduate Hallie Rae Ulrich, to a heroin overdose in 2017. Also on the committee are Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, representatives of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, local schools, clergy, Narcotics Anonymous and local community organizations.
Among the task force’s many recommendations were providing immediate treatment for those in crisis, boosting public education about opioids and promoting long-term support for those in recovery.
“It’s easy to say we need this and we need that, but it’s a lot harder to put it into effect and say let’s get it going, here’s the money, here’s the building that’s going to be used,” Mr. Scott said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re all committed to making sure the recommendations are viable, doable and get done — and not just to aid the Town of Southampton, but to assist all of the East End. We’re terribly underserved here.”
Mr. Scott said he was deeply affected by the death of his granddaughter, and that his role on the new committee is “to remind them how just about anyone on the East End can be touched by this epidemic.” He said being involved first in the task force and now in the committee is therapeutic.
“Never in a million years did I think [my granddaughter] would become a victim to heroin addiction,” he said. “She fought it for two years. It just tears me up inside. I have to keep doing this. I keep reminding them what it’s like, what so many are going through.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee is intentionally smaller than the task force, so it can hone in on what needs to be done, and that a second committee, the Mental Health Advisory Committee, will also be of assistance.
“I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “It’s about saving lives and rebuilding our community, getting resources to people in need. I have high hopes for the committee. There are great people on it.”
In its first meeting, the Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee had visitors from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, whom Mr. Schneiderman said were there to learn more about the issues affecting the region. While there is no funding for specific initiatives yet, as the committee still has to really dig its heels in, town funding along with the seeking of grants are possibilities in the future, Mr. Schneiderman said.
“We think the state may be able to assist in the implementation,” he said.
Mr. Scott said the conversation happening around opioid addiction is already having an impact in Southampton Town, where there were 17 confirmed opioid-related deaths in 2017 but just two in 2018 so far.
“You have to be ready to meet the situations that are challenging, and not harden your heart,” he said. “I think that the public awareness of what we’ve been talking about has helped, breaking down the stigma and discussing this publicly.”