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Aug 29, 2017 11:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Opioid Crisis A Real Concern On East End

Heroin use took off in 2010, and experts agree that prescription drug dependence typically leads to experimentation with that drug, because both of them produce the same high, yet the high from heroin is almost instant, lasts longer and costs significantly less.   PRESS FILE
Aug 29, 2017 1:16 PM

A deadly trend is sweeping Long Island: Drug dealers are lacing a potent synthetic opioid into other drugs, making them 50 to 100 times more potent—and often deadly.

Just in Southampton Town, there have been two fatal overdoses in the past month, according to Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, who said President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency related to the opioid crisis earlier this month could open up grant funding opportunities for East End towns to help combat the issue.

Until then, to try and address the crisis, Chief Skrynecki said he recently put into place a new initiative: sending detectives to investigate every overdose, trying to determine how the drugs were obtained.

“We send detectives now to the scene,” the chief said, noting that, previously, detectives were typically sent immediately only to fatal incidents. “That moment in time when a loved one is going away in an ambulance—or, worse, being picked up by the morgue—that family is much more likely to speak with us.” Then, he said, detectives get more information about the drug supplier.

Additionally, the department now gives each police officer readily available Narcan, a medication designed to save someone who has overdosed on opioids, and has worked with East End schools to find ways to improve their approach to awareness and education.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths and is a major cause of the opioid crisis. It’s often added to heroin and other illicit drugs, sometimes without the buyer’s knowledge, making the drug much more potent.

“We’re really conscious of the potential for fentanyl-laced heroin coming this way,” Chief Skrynecki said. “We know that the trafficking comes west to east. We’ve been able to link back drug trafficking [in Southampton] to the Medford-Coram area.”

Dr. Allen Fein, a Southampton Village-based family medicine doctor who also treats addiction, said he heard of a local patient who, just last month, overdosed after smoking a substance he thought was just marijuana. It took two doses of naloxone, or Narcan, to bring him back to consciousness.

Although test results have not come back for that patient, Dr. Fein said he suspects the culprit was likely marijuana laced with fentanyl.

“When the ambulance arrived at his home, he was completely on his last breath,” Dr. Fein said of the patient, who had illegally obtained the marijuana.

Currently, Dr. Fein meets with 150 local patients once a month who have what he refers to as “opioid use disorder.” He said he believes the community fails to understand the full extent of the problem, the sheer number of fatal opioid overdoses, since families have the option of suppressing a loved one’s cause of death.

“Almost all my patients know people who died,” he said. “One of my patients had a friend who was a gravedigger who said they were burying a kid a week.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 183,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids from 1999 to 2015. In Suffolk County alone, 788 people died from overdoses from 2013 to 2015, the most recent years for which numbers are available. Many experts believe those numbers have climbed in subsequent years.

President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency on August 10, an action that likely will allow the executive branch to direct funds to expand treatment facilities and supply police officers with the anti-overdose remedy, Narcan.

Since Southampton Town is the largest and most populous of the five East End towns of Suffolk County, Southampton Town Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Kevin Gwinn emphasized that the opioid crisis is affecting the community more so than locals think.

“Knowing that size and what we’re dealing with, we’re not immune to the problems we’re seeing in western Suffolk County,” Mr. Gwinn said. “The opioid problem is hitting us just as hard on the scale.” He noted that other violent crimes within the town are often rooted back to drug use and drug addiction.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said his officers have focused on awareness and prevention for East Hampton residents from a young age in the town’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, while also directly combating opioid abuse.

“We have worked with the community to raise awareness of the dangers and risks of opioid abuse, which can destroy lives,” Chief Sarlo said. “Narcan training for all officers has saved numerous lives over the past few years, and in-depth investigations into the sale and distribution of illegal narcotics continues to be a priority for our agency.”

According to Dr. Fein, an effective solution to the epidemic is not as easy as simply getting people to seek treatment. In fact, it takes a special seminar for doctors to get certified to treat addiction. Oftentimes, Dr. Fein said, physicians prefer not to get certified, to avoid dealing with patients with drug addiction—who often lie, have “extra baggage” and other emotional or legal issues. That, in addition to doctors’ biases interacting with addicts in hospital emergency rooms during their medical training, deters them from getting certified, limiting the options of those seeking help.

“These patients would often be very difficult, manipulative and conning to get drugs,” he said of addicts who go to hospitals. “The people that show up at the emergency room are probably out of money—out of friends. My perspective is that [my patients] are regular people—regular patients in my waiting room.”

In his practice, Dr. Fein said, he has found that a third of his patients began their opioid dependency from recreational use, a third from initial prescriptions, and a third, less-known group who began taking opioids to cope with physically demanding jobs, such as construction workers.

People with opioid addiction, he said, typically experience mood changes and irritability, and are often pale, have dilated pupils and diarrhea.

A statewide program to provide no-cost or lower-cost naloxone at pharmacies across New York was announced earlier this month by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Additionally, $200 million was included in the 2017 state budget to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic.

In June, State Senator Ken LaValle, who represents the East End, reported that the State Senate approved a package of more than a dozen bills to help end the state’s deadly heroin, opioid and synthetic drug epidemic. The legislation, which is expected to be discussed by a State Assembly committee next year, focuses on enforcement to hold drug dealers more accountable, regulates many synthetic opioids, bolsters protections for children, and improves the state’s treatment programs to help assist individuals with recovery.

“The heroin crisis continues to affect many communities throughout our region,” Mr. LaValle said in a prepared statement. “It persists in touching individuals in every social and economic group. It is critically important that we utilize all the resources and tools available to halt this epidemic.”

According to Jennifer DiSiena, a spokeswoman for U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, the deadline for Congress to fund a $3.6 billion effort for mental health—including a plan to increase treatment and recovery services for those suffering from addiction—is September 30. If approved, funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would be included, which would provide a total increase of $650 million for initiatives to address the opioid crisis.

Ms. DiSiena said Congress is still negotiating funding levels for the bill—which Mr. Zeldin supports—but that the legislation “is expected to see action as early as next month.”

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Well as long as you keep giving slap on the wrist sentences to the makers and dealers you are going to keep putting their victims in the ground. If you make drugs or sell them there should be one punishment: death. But you namby pamby wussies just keep catching and releasing and act surprised when criminal filth keep doing the same thing over and over.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Aug 29, 17 12:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
However, the spoon market is booming.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Aug 29, 17 1:58 PM
"Opiod Use Disorder"... love that term. And to think that just a few years ago we called them "Junkies".

Can we call it "opioid use weakness"?

And before you say I don't know what I'm saying, I was (legally) on massive doses of opioids after an accident. I weaned myself off slowly as soon as I was out of the hospital.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Aug 29, 17 9:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
Thank you President Donald Trump for declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency Thursday, a designation that would offer states and federal agencies more resources and power to combat the epidemic.

In a statement released late Thursday, the White House said, "building upon the recommendations in the interim report from the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, President Donald J. Trump has instructed his Administration to use all appropriate emergency ...more
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Aug 29, 17 10:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yeah, about that.

Obama addressed it last July. It's called CARA.

S.524 - Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016
114th Congress (2015-2016)

Why are right wingers so obsessed with erasing the legacy of a black president?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 6, 17 9:12 PM
It's no surprise that opium flooded the nation during obama's disastrous 8 years. Until recently, most of it came from the Middle East.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Aug 30, 17 5:47 AM
That idiot Judge Cooperstown and her drug court really works well lol
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Sep 6, 17 7:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
If only she would target drug dealers with the same veracity she targets cell phone users and towers
By joe hampton (3461), The Hamptons on Sep 6, 17 4:13 PM
Yes i have had the pleasure of sitting in that womans court room. attention seeking loon for sure.
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Sep 6, 17 8:49 PM