Those who gathered at Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays on Saturday evening paid tribute to loved ones who lost their lives to opioid abuse.
Hundreds of candles — representing both the six people who died of opioid overdose in Southampton this year and 297 people who fatally overdosed from opioids in Suffolk County last year — glowed in the amphitheater of the park as more than 30 people attended Southampton’s second annual Candlelight Vigil.
The event, sponsored by Southampton’s Addiction & Recovery Committee, served as a way to both bring attention to the opioid addiction crisis on the East End and for people to share stories of loved ones who died from opioid abuse or of recovering from addiction.
Denise Erwin of East Quogue spoke about her daughter, Melanie Erwin, who died Sept. 5 from a heroin overdose. She was 27.
“It’s a pain I want other people to not have, and I will do anything to help people not go through what I am going through now with the pain of losing her,” said Erwin, who later held up a framed picture of her daughter.
Fatal drug overdoses climbed sharply from five deaths in Southampton in 2016 to 19 deaths in 2017 before they dropped to six in 2018 and only one so far this year, according to statistics from the Southampton Town Police Department.
Meanwhile, Narcan saves made by police — referring to police using a drug called naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses — are currently at nine this year. That’s down from 21 Narcan saves in 2018, but one higher than the eight saves recorded as of this time last year, Southampton police statistics reported.
Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Saturday before the event the number of deaths are down in part due to public education efforts and police having arrested drug dealers in busts that have taken up to 600 bags of heroin off the street.
However, Schneiderman added, that didn’t mean the opioid crisis was over on the East End.
“I feel like we’ve turned the corner, but we have to stay focused on this issue,” Schneiderman said. “There’s still a lot of people using.”
The vigil was also a way to diminish the stigma around the drug, which Schneiderman said had been helpful in getting people to share their stories and support each other.
Drew Scott, a former anchor for News 12 Long Island, whose granddaughter Hallie Rae Ulrich died in September 2017 after overdosing on opioids, said he was glad opioid deaths had declined in recent years, but it was important to continue discussing the addiction problem.
“Years ago … people didn’t want to talk about heroin addiction or alcohol addiction and now people are beginning to open up and talk about it, so that’s a good thing,” Scott said. “The more discussion we have, the better it’s going to be.”