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Long IslandSuffolk

Southampton creates 27-member task force to address opioid crisis

Officials say drug is responsible for 17 deaths, including that of a former TV anchor’s granddaughter, so far in 2017 — nearly four times the tally in 2016.

Former News 12 Long Island anchor Drew Scott

Former News 12 Long Island anchor Drew Scott shows a photo of his late granddaughter, Hallie Rae Ulrich, who overdosed in September. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Southampton Town’s supervisor and top cop are joining forces with community members and elected officials to fight opioid addiction, spurred by a fatal overdose rate that has nearly quadrupled in less than a year.

The town board recently established an opioid addiction task force to develop a plan to address addiction by June.

The task force of 27 members includes police chief Steven Skrynecki as well as area school superintendents, substance abuse counselors, health officials, town board members and a religious leader. It is co-chaired by Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and former News12 anchor Drew Scott, who lost a granddaughter to an opioid overdose in September.

“I just can’t bear reading about another young person from the community who loses their life in a very preventable way to these really nasty drugs,” Schneiderman said.

As of October, 17 people have died of overdoses in Southampton in 2017, an increase from five for all of 2016, Southampton Town Police said.

Opioids killed more than 500 people across Long Island in 2016, prompting law enforcement agencies, including the Southampton Town Police Department, to escalate their tactics against drug dealers by charging them in overdose cases.

The opioid epidemic has hit so many families that it has been declared a public health emergency by President Donald J. Trump.

Several task force members said part of their goal includes eliminating the stigma of drug abuse because it makes people less likely to seek help.

“Everybody can fall prey to this disease,” said the Rev. Michael Smith, of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, noting that people in minority communities have been “struggling with this for years” but that it was not declared a crisis until it “reached the Hamptons.”

Task force members also acknowledged they need the community’s help in crafting solutions to the opioid epidemic.

“No one person has answers,” said Katrin Diana, emergency room nurse manager at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

To solicit community ideas, the task force is hosting a public forum on opioid addiction at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hampton Bays High School. The task force will also hold monthly general meetings, as well as monthly meetings of subcommittees dedicated to education, treatment and law enforcement.

Scott, of Westhampton, said he decided to dedicate his time in retirement to fighting opioid addiction after granddaughter Hallie Rae Ulrich was found dead on the side of a road in East Hampton on Sept. 7. Ulrich, 22, grew up in Sag Harbor and has a fraternal twin sister.

“I’m a guy who used to be on TV every day, who used to tell you the news,” Scott said. “And I might have looked like I had all the answers, but it affected my family. And if it affected my family, it could affect yours.”

HELP IS A PHONE CALL AWAY

Resources for South Fork residents seeking treatment for substance abuse:

  • 24/7 hotline for the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence: 631-979-1700
  • Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach: 631-288-1122
  • Long Island Center for Recovery in Hampton Bays: 631-728-3100
  • The Dunes in East Hampton: 631-324-3446
  • Phoenix House in East Hampton: 631-329-0373
  • Catholic Charities in Hampton Bays: 631-723-3362
  • Alternatives Counseling Services in Southampton: 631-283-4440

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