Westhampton Beach drug and alcohol prevention advocates have come together to better address the opioid crisis and educate the youth on Long Island about addiction and recovery through a collaborative project.
Westhampton Beach resident Bill Donahue has produced a short film “Unspoken, Now Told: Recovery Stories,” in collaboration with Human Understanding and Growth Services Inc., or HUGS, based in Westhampton Beach.
Drew Scott, Southampton Town Opioid Task Force co-chairman and a former News 12 anchor, was also involved in the making of the film, which will be shown in several Long Island schools and will be available online starting on Monday, February 10, at unspokennowtold.com.
Mr. Donahue, a village resident for over two decades and a 1988 graduate of Westhampton Beach High School, has worked on other projects with HUGS in the past. He said this week that HUGS President Kym Laube has always been a force in the community.
“I want the target audience to realize that no one is immune or has an invisible shield that prevents them from addiction to opioids. Everyone is susceptible,” he said. “We need to be aware of the destructive path these people went down. Recovery and redemption is possible with a strong community effort.”
Ms. Laube conducted the outreach that led her to the four individuals featured in the film, who all tell their stories of addiction and recovery. Three of them were born and raised on Long Island.
When Ms. Laube and Mr. Donahue sat down to discuss who would be featured in the film, they decided that they wanted people who would be robust, thought-provoking and articulate, but, more importantly, people who had been down the path of addiction but have done well in recovery and live sustainable lives now.
“This really connected to the heart. It’s people’s life stories, it shows real experiential change, it works in effort to change community norms and social norms when it comes to drugs and alcohol,” she said.
Ms. Laube defines HUGS as a drug and alcohol prevention agency, with a mission to distribute as much information in as many different forms as possible to the community. She said that a way HUGS changes community norms is by raising awareness and spreading clear, accurate information. She wants the students who watch the film to recognize that addiction can happen to anyone at any time.
“Although I hate the opioid crisis and the opioid epidemic, the one thing that it has done is raise awareness about substance use disorder, about addiction. Addiction is something that happens right in front of you, to someone who you can love tremendously,” Ms. Laube said. “One of the things we want to make really clear is that people in recovery live really amazing powerful lives, just the same as anybody who would recover from any other illness.”
HUGS peer advocate Krystle Stoddard had the opportunity to share her experience, thanks to the film. She hopes it will help break the stigma around what “type” of person who can get addicted to drugs.
“I had an opportunity to really share my story and be myself, with hopes of helping someone else, and that’s the goal. There’s so much stigma out there, and when you hear addiction, or hear drug addicts, you think of someone under the bridge or panhandling. When, in turn, it’s your student leader who is an athlete,” she explained.
Mr. Scott, one of the faces of “Unspoken, Now Told: Recovery Stories,” has experienced the effects of addiction firsthand. His granddaughter, Hallie Ulrich, died in September 2017 of an opioid overdose. Ms. Ulrich was a 22-year-old Pratt University and Sag Harbor High School graduate who enjoyed teaching ukulele and yoga in her free time.
“She had everything to live for and got involved in heroin through a boyfriend,” said Mr. Scott. “During the late summer of 2017, she overdosed with what we believe was heroin laced with fentanyl.” Fentanyl is strong narcotic often cut into other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
“We were just so shocked that heroin was so readily available to young kids,” Mr. Scott said. “I want the students who see the film to know that, sometime during their lifetime, they are going to be confronted with an opportunity to use opioids, heroin or other drugs, and they have to be very careful, even if they are curious — one time can kill them.”
Mr. Scott is a co-chairman of the Southampton Town Opioid Task Force and helped the town of Islip assemble its task force as well. He said one of the objectives of the task force is to raise awareness about heroin and fentanyl in the community. He wants people to know that recovery is possible. All recovering addicts in the film have found ways to get clear of drugs and made successful lives for themselves, he noted.
“It’s all very inspiring,” he said. “One of the people featured in the film is now working with HUGS. She’s helping others, and I admire that a lot. I wish that my granddaughter could have lived to see that mission, as she loved helping people.”
“Unspoken, Now Told: Recovery Stories” will be shown at Hampton Bays High School on Wednesday, February 12. Other schools that will host a showing this month include Center Moriches and Lynbrook.