Carole Trottere of Old Field and her son, Alex Sutton,...

Carole Trottere of Old Field and her son, Alex Sutton, who died in 2018 from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. Credit: Carole Trottere

A federal agency has tapped into a powerful force to help combat the deadly fentanyl epidemic that has claimed more than 100,000 lives nationwide in recent years: Long Island’s grieving mothers and fathers.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Division wants to use their help to spread the agency's "One Pill Can Kill" campaign, which aims to alert Americans on the dangers of counterfeit Xanax, Adderall and other bootleg prescription drugs that are often laced with fentanyl, a cheap and deadly synthetic opioid responsible for most of the nation’s fatal overdoses in recent years. 

More than 50 people, mostly Long Island residents who have lost loved ones to opioids and other drugs, attended the 2022 Family Summit on the Overdose and Poisoning Epidemic in Manhattan on Nov. 16 to find out more about the program, according to Frank Tarentino III, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division. 

“We wanted to learn as much as we can from these families that have lost loved ones,” Tarentino said in a recent interview. “We wanted to educate them on fentanyl and how widespread it is. We want their help to spread our ‘One Pill Can Kill’ campaign.” 

The Nov. 16 conference was part of a national effort to educate the public on the dangers of fentanyl and an opportunity to explain what the DEA is doing to keep fentanyl out of communities. Six of every 10 fentanyl-laced pills analyzed by the DEA this year contained a lethal dose of the synthetic opioid – up from four out of 10 pills analyzed in 2021, according to Tarentino.

Larry Lamendola of Wantagh celebrates his birthday with his daughter, Lisa,...

Larry Lamendola of Wantagh celebrates his birthday with his daughter, Lisa, who died from a fatal overdose in 2019.  Credit: Larry Lamendola

“The DEA wants to be partners with us, I thought that was interesting” said Larry Lamendola of Wantagh, a summit participant whose daughter Lisa died from a fatal overdose in 2019. “I felt like the agents were listening to what we had to say. They took time out of their day to hear heart-felt stories about our loved ones.” 

Many of the relatives who participated in the summit have long channeled their anguish into activism, in the process creating a grass-roots network of Long Island organizations dedicated to preventing future overdoses, promoting treatment and supporting families who have lost loved ones. 

DEA officials provided participants with flash drives loaded with anti-fentanyl posters and educational materials, and they asked families to distribute the fliers in their communities or post them on social media. They also urged the families to push their school districts to include warnings about fentanyl in elementary, middle school and high school drug prevention curricula. 

Long Island participants said the meeting with the DEA has inspired them to double down on their efforts to try to spare other families the pain they have struggled with since their loved ones’ deaths. 

“It is the most horrifying abyss you can fall into,” said Carole Trottere of Old Field, whose son Alex Sutton died in 2018 from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. “Nothing impacts people more than hearing a story like that.” 

Trottere, with assistance from the Suffolk County Police Department, trained parents, students and others on how to use Narcan – a nasal spray that halts overdoses – at Station Pizza, near the Stony Brook University campus, in October. She is now distributing fliers near the Stony Brook University campus to protect students who might be tempted to purchase counterfeit Adderall or Xanax. 

“These pills are frightening,” she said. “It’s a whole new frightening game right now.” 

Lamendola, the co-chair of the Levittown Community Action Coalition, which promotes drug prevention and conducts Narcan trainings, said he’s pushing the Levittown Union Free School District to include fentanyl warnings in its curriculum.

Other participants included longtime members of Families in Support of Treatment, which assists relatives whose lovd ones are struggling with addiction, and The Beading Hearts, a support group that counsels inmates in Suffolk jails who are struggling with addiction. 

“The ones who make a big impact in terms of change are the families,” said summit speaker and FIST founder Anthony Rizzuto, the director of provider relations at the Seafield treatment center.

The participants also included Paulette Phillipe, the founder of Gabriel’s Giving Tree, which provides grants to needy families to bury their loved ones.

“I think the DEA officials are watching so many people die, and they are frustrated,” Phillipe said. “They know they can’t do this alone. This is like a 737 going down every day. The urgency of this epidemic is not being heard.” 

Many of the Long Island participants boarded a bus at the crack of dawn at various points in Suffolk and Nassau that morning for the trip to Manhattan. The bus was organized by the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which provides treatment to those struggling with substance abuse, and Families in Support of Treatment,  which provides assistance to relatives of people struggling with addiction. 

Rainbow fentanyl pills and powder come in a variety of...

Rainbow fentanyl pills and powder come in a variety of bright colors, shapes and sizes.  Credit: TNS/Drug Enforcement Administration

The opioid epidemic that began in the late 1990s has claimed thousands of Long Island lives, according to public health officials in Nassau and Suffolk, and those numbers surged in recent years with the isolation and grief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to public health officials. A record number of Americans – more than 107,000 – died from overdoses in 2021, according to the DEA. 

Many of those deaths were linked to counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl, which the DEA said iis 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. The drug is trafficked primarily by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico, using chemicals sourced from China.

 “This is the DEA’s effort to increase awareness about the dangers of fentanyl,” Tarentino said of the One Pill Can Kill campaign. “We can prevent some of these poisonings from happening.” 


 

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