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East Hampton residents push to combat drugs with teen recreational space

East Hampton Town is in discussions to buy

East Hampton Town is in discussions to buy the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton and turn it into a community center, an effort to prevent drug use among local teens. March 23, 2017 Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A group of East Hampton residents is asking the town board to create additional recreational spaces for youths in an effort to prevent drug use after a teen overdosed in January.

More than 50 residents joined members of the nonprofit community group East End New Leaders at a recent town board meeting, saying teens need a place to hang out besides unsupervised homes and parties.

In East Hampton, at least five residents have fatally overdosed from drugs in the past few years, community members said. In January, Jordan Johnson, 18, was hospitalized after overdosing at a party in Springs, leaving him with brain damage.

“We’re not immune from what is going on in society and around the country today,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. “We support and spend public resources to try to address that issue, and there’s certainly more that can be done.”

Opiate overdose deaths are on the rise across Long Island, with 442 people dying of opiate overdoses in 2015 — 39 more opioid-related deaths than in 2014, according to the Nassau and Suffolk County medical examiners’ offices. Figures for 2016 were not available.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of Mineola-based Family and Children’s Services, said “creating a safe space for kids to connect in a safe and sober way is particularly critical” because a lack of social activities in suburban environments is a factor in drug use.

Town officials said they are considering creating a community center. They have been in discussions for the past year to purchase the shuttered facility of the Children’s Development Center of the Hamptons.

The town already owns a recreation center, which it contracted out to the YMCA in the early 2000s because of budget issues and declining youth attendance.

East End New Leaders proposed revamping the YMCA to include more spaces for teens who do not want to participate in its structured programs, which include swimming and art classes.

But the building already has a lounge area, as well as a 30-foot rock wall, televisions and pingpong tables, said Glenn Vickers II, the executive director.

The YMCA has 4,300 members — about 1,900 of whom are younger than 18 and have free memberships — and receives $590,000 from the town for operating expenses each year.

Kym Laube, executive director of the Westhampton-based nonprofit youth organization HUGS Inc., said that while more recreational space would be a “great asset,” residents must change the East End culture of “party and play” associated with the resort town.

“Until you change the environment, it’s not going to have a long-term, sustainable impact on the community,” she said.

Kira Leader, whose brother, Pascal “Sax” Leader, died of a drug overdose at age 25, said the town needs a teen-only facility.

“When my brother died three years ago, it seemed like a rare tragedy,” Leader said at a March 16 town board meeting. “And although it’s still a tragedy, it’s not rare anymore.”

East Hampton’s anti-drug initiatives include:

  • Giving a $50,000 grant to the Family Service League for mental health initiatives
  • Providing a $50,000 grant to Phoenix House for outpatient substance-abuse treatment
  • Contributing $27,500 to the South Fork Mental Health Initiative to fund social work
  • Sponsoring Narcan training with Suffolk County to treat drug overdoses
  • Installing a tele-psychiatry program, in which adolescents can videoconference with a mental health professional immediately from a secure room
  • Placing a community resource officer in East Hampton High School
  • Seeking a psychiatric nurse practitioner to work out of Southampton Hospital

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