Allison Van Cott-McEntee talks to listeners during her "Play It...

Allison Van Cott-McEntee talks to listeners during her "Play It Forward" radio show on WUSB recently. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Allison Van Cott-McEntee will never forget those dispiriting years when her younger brother struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. She'd wonder: Would this be the night she got the phone call notifying her that Steven had died? 

That call came in 2017, the Stony Brook resident said, when her brother was killed by a fatal overdose at the age of 42 after a decadeslong battle with addiction.

Devastated by grief, Van Cott-McEntee vowed to do what she could to shield other Long Island families from similar loss — a promise that eventually led to “Play It Forward,” a bimonthly show on WUSB/90.1 FM, Stony Brook University’s noncommercial radio station. 

“I decided I really wanted to do something about this. It helped me with my grieving process, to give back,” said Van Cott-McEntee, a graduate of Stony Brook University who earned a multidisciplinary degree in sociology and music. 


  • Allison Van Cott-McEntee started a show last year on the noncommercial Stony Brook University radio station to warn about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
  • The goal of “Play it Forward,” Van Cott-McEntee said, is to also provide students and other WUSB listeners information about treatment and lend support to those struggling with addition. It airs every other Friday from 1 to 2 p.m.
  • Van Cott-McEntee said her activism was inspired by ACT UP, the group that sprang up in the 1980s to address the AIDS crisis.

The goal of “Play it Forward,” Van Cott-McEntee, 57, said is to provide students and other WUSB listeners with information about the dangers of opioid abuse and about treatment and support. The show airs every other Friday from 1 to 2 p.m.

It is part of the work Van Cott-McEntee and her team do at the Play It Forward Project, a nonprofit that also trains students and others to use Narcan, the nasal spray that reverses overdoses. Steven, she said, had been saved multiple times by Narcan before his death.

“We don’t prepare people to deal with the affliction of addiction,” the Rev. Frank Pizzarelli, the founder and executive director of Hope House, a Port Jefferson ministry and treatment center, said during a recent interview on “Play it Forward.” 

“How do you cope in a world that is drug- and alcohol-infested?” asked the long-haired, white-bearded Pizzarelli, wearing a bright dashiki over his traditional Catholic collar.

Founder and executive director of Hope House Ministries, Frank Pizzarelli,...

Founder and executive director of Hope House Ministries, Frank Pizzarelli, was as guest at WUSB's "Play It Forward" radio show on May 26. Credit: Morgan Campbell

109,689 U.S. drug deaths in 2022

Thousands of Long Island residents have died of fatal overdoses since the opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, and drug deaths hit a record 109,689 nationwide last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May. The previous record was set in 2021, when 107,622 died of overdoes. Public health experts have said the isolation, depression and financial hardship fueled a surge in alcohol and drug abuse — and deaths. 

The majority of those deaths, according to public health and law enforcement officials, were due to fentanyl, the cheap and dangerous synthetic opioid that drug manufacturers use to cut not only heroin, but also cocaine and counterfeit Xanax, Adderall and other phony medications.

The eight-member “Play it Forward” team starts each show with a recitation of information about fentanyl. Six in 10 counterfeit pills seized by the DEA, the agency has said, contain potentially fatal doses of fentanyl. 

More than 150 people die each day from fentanyl, according to the CDC, and Van Cott-McEntee said it is appalling that the issue does not get the attention she believes it deserves from the media, the Biden administration and other elected leaders. 

“This is like a plane crash every day,” Van Cott-McEntee said. “We’re losing a whole generation of future professors, artists, thinkers. I feel like I have an obligation to do something about it.” 

Other recent guests on “Play It Forward” include Frank Tarentino, special-agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office; Drew Scott, the longtime News12 anchor whose granddaughter died from a fatal opioid overdose; Long Island Council on Drug and Alcohol Dependence executive director Steve Chassman; Carole Trottere, an anti-opioid activist whose son died from an overdose; and Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

“The numbers are so staggering when it comes to overdoses and fentanyl poisoning,” Hahn said. “It touches so many families. I’m so heart warmed that Allison was able to find a way to harness her own grief and turn it into an educational outlet.” 

'A lot of positivity out of it'

Matt Wise, WSUB's program director, said the station has received a lot of positive feedback about the show, especially from people involved in social work and drug treatment. 

"A lot of people have come up to me to say they listen and get a lot of positivity out of it," he said. 

Students in the past were more into Friday afternoon programming conducive to partying and blowing off steam, but Wise said young people these days are different. 

"There's been a shift in attitudes," he said. "Younger people want to keep each other safe." 

The radio show and the Narcan training are part of a grassroots response to the opioid crisis. Others include the Beading Hearts, a support group that counsels inmates with addiction; Gabriel’s Giving Tree, which provides funds for funerals of overdose victims to needy families; and Families in Support of Treatment (F.I.S.T.), a support and advocacy group. 

The DEA tapped into the power of Long Island’s grieving families in November. Tarentino and other officials met with more than 50 people who had lost loved ones to drugs, mostly from Nassau and Suffolk counties, to recruit them to spread the agency’s “One Pill Can Kill” campaign and raise awareness of bootleg medication. 

Van Cott-McEntee said her activism was inspired by ACT UP, the group that sprang up in the 1980s to address the AIDS crisis.

“If you take a look at American history, change starts on college campuses,” she said. “Young people say, ‘This is my generation and we want to make a difference.’ ”

No radio experience when she started

Van Cott-McEntee had no radio experience when she began the show in February 2022, attracting or recruiting a team along the way. The team members that peppered Pizzarelli with questions about his 43 years at Hope House on a recent Friday included Stony Brook graduates Chloe Fisher-Galasso and Aisha Zamzam, undergraduate student Taylor Solomon, and Hope House employee Kurt Hall. 

Some joined the team because they are in recovery and wanted to help others with addiction. Some signed up because they have loved ones who struggle with drugs. All of them hope to make a difference. 

Allison Van Cott-McEntee with her brother, Steven Van Cott, who died...

Allison Van Cott-McEntee with her brother, Steven Van Cott, who died of an overdose in 2017. Credit: Cott family

Van Cott-McEntee said she is not stopping with the radio show and the Narcan training. Play It Forward plans to apply for a grant from Suffolk’s opioid settlement fund to purchase a van — painted purple, like the bus on the 1970s' “The Partridge Family” sitcom — that could be used as a studio for a mobile podcast. 

The eye-grabbing van, Van Cott-McEntee said, would also be used to conduct outdoor assemblies at colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools to educate students. The assemblies, she said, would include speakers from Hope House who have battled addiction and survived to talk about it. 

“These young men, who are struggling and speaking their story, they make such an impact on these kids compared to a guy in a suit and a tie who runs a rehab,” Van Cott-McEntee said. “Their stories are raw, sometimes a little hard to hear, but I think kids these days know a lot and they are ready to hear it.” 

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