By Stephen J. Kotz
Citing the growing problem of opioid addiction, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman this week said the town would create a task force to study the issue and make recommendations for ways to combat it.
“Our community — and the country — continues to be plagued by opioid addiction, heroin overdoses,” the supervisor told his fellow board members on Thursday. “Our community has been rocked by quite a few recently.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he had asked former News 12 anchorman Drew Scott to join him in serving as co-chairman of the 15-member panel he hopes will be established as early as next month. Mr. Scott’s granddaughter, Hallie Ulrich, 22, who graduated from Pierson High School in 2013, and her boyfriend, Michael Goericke, 28, of Flanders, died last month of overdoses.
“I can’t bear to hear about another young person who has lost his or her life to an overdose,” Mr. Schneiderman said, while adding “I don’t know what the answer is.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the task force, which will include mental health professionals, law enforcement officials and representatives of local schools, would be charged with coming up with a list of recommendations to combat the problem within nine months. “I want an action plan with some concrete measures we can put into place in a short time,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
Opioid deaths have spiked across Long Island including Suffolk County in recent years. In 2016, Suffolk County reported more than 300 deaths from opioids, with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug said to be 50 times stronger than heroin, responsible for more than half of those.
According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, opioid deaths have been rising over the past two decades, with drug overdoses now the single greatest cause of unintentional deaths in America.
Suffolk County has been hit particularly hard, the council said, with 337 opioid-related deaths between 2009 and 2013, a number that has escalated the past four years. The council also noted during that same period that the number of white opioid overdose victims had outpaced the number of Latino or African-American victims.
Mr. Schneiderman said a generation ago, the image of a heroin addict was “the bottom of the bottom, dirty needles, terrible withdrawals,” but today, he said many young people from typically stable homes seem to be drawn to opioids. “Why are they dabbling in it? What message are they receiving that says it’s okay?” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Is there something that different about society today?”
The supervisor said he hoped the task force would “look at best practices in other communities, from law enforcement, education and examining the underlying mental health issues.”
He said it was too early to discuss possible programs that could be undertaken by the town or schools, but said he was open to expanding the discussion to a regional basis and working cooperatively with other municipalities, agencies and school district to make a difference.
Joining Mr. Scott and Mr. Schneiderman on the task force will be Nancy Lynott, the director of the town’s Youth Bureau; Police Chief Steven Skrynecki; Katrina Diana, the director of Southampton Hospital’s emergency department; Brian Babcock, an emergency medical technician; former Southampton Mayor Mark Epley, representing the Seafield treatment center in Westhampton Beach; Christine Ephephania of Alternatives Counseling Services; the Reverend Michael Smith of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation; Oscar Mandes, a licensed social worker with the Meeting House Lane medical practice, Kym Laube, the director of HUGS; and a representative of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association.
Officials from local school districts will also serve on the task force including Sag Harbor School District Athletic Director Eric Bramoff; Bridgehampton Superintendent Lois Favre; Southampton Superintendent Nick Dyno; Tuckahoe Superintendent Len Skuggevik; Wainscott Superintendent Deborah Haab; and Westhampton Beach Superintendent Michael Radday.