This Year’s Theme is “Recognizing Those People Who Go Unseen”
By Hank Russell
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine was joined by Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney and local town officials in front of Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on August 31 for the “International Overdose Awareness Day” Rally.
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdoses around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2021 — an increase of 15% over the previous year. Two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl.
“Today is a day we face with sadness,” Romaine said, adding that 1 million people in the U.S. have died of opioid-related overdoses since 1999. In Suffolk, he said, there were 390 overdose deaths — “more than one a day,” he said.
“We are recognizing these [overdoses] that are permeating our town, our state and our country,” Romaine continued. “We got to have better treatment facilities, we’ve got to reach out to those afflicted and we’ve got to stop the flow of fentanyl into this country.”
Although only two milligrams is needed for one person to die of an overdose, state law allows the dealer to be released without bail. “You get a revolvong door of justice,” Romaine said. “That’s got to stop. … This is a crisis that affects everyone.”
Tierney agreed, pointing out that a dealer possessing with eight ounces of fentanyl — enough to kill over 140,000 people — would be eligible for bail. “This is ridiculous,” he said.
If they were selling other types of opioids, “we couldn’t touch them,” Tierney said. “It was like [they were] selling baby aspirin.”
Romaine said that drug use has “a ripple effect on everyone” in that it not only affects the user, but the user’s family and friends as well. Their loved ones and friends “wished they could turn back the clock and say, ‘Stop, please don’t do this,’” he said.
Tierney said he has met several times with Romaine about this topic. “One thing [we agreed on] is that we have to stop talking about it and we have to start doing something about it,” he said, adding that local elected officials have been “paying lip service” instead of acting on the problem.
Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico agreed. “The time for talk has to go,” he said. “People are dying in the streets and there is not one solution to this.”
Although drug dealers should be placed in jail for dealing these dangerous drugs, “we can’t jail and incarcerate our way” out of the problem, Tierney said. He called for money to fund drug treatment and mental health services; the money has gone to jails, but nothing has gone to helping those struggling with addiction.
“Where is the money?” Panico asked. “The state is trying to balance its budget with tax revenue coming from things that lead to addiction. … We need a shift, not only in our society, but in our government because these [people addicted to opioids] are human beings.”
Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich commended Panico for “putting a human face” on the drug epidemic. “Our fight is not against addicts, but it’s against addiction.”
Tierney said he plans to meet with state legislators in Albany, where he will be joined by local elected officials and families who have been affected by the drug crisis. “We are going to take our message to them and say, ‘Please pay attention to us, please pay attention to what is happening on the streets,’” he said.
The emotional part of the press conference came when some of the guest speakers shared their experiences losing loved ones to addiction. Drew Scott, a former Long Island newscaster who became an advocate for families who lost loved ones to addiction after losing his granddaughter to an overdose, told those in attendance, “Overdose awareness is a good thing. Remember, addiction is a disease, and we have to treat the disease.” He also told the attendees that “addiction has a face” as he showed a photo of his granddaughter to the crowd.
“One pill can kill,” Scott added. “Curiosity has killed so many young people.” He urged everyone to “join the crusade” and “don’t give into the stigma, don’t hide and let everyone know what happened to you and your family.”
Lori Cabonaro, who lost her son Nicholas to a drug overdose 10 years ago and is a member of F.I.S.T. (Families In Support of Treatment), told the crowd, “We need to prevent this. … Don’t wait to talk to your little children about what’s going on. It’s very fearful to talk to a children about — not heroin, but anything dealing with drugs. Better to be fearful and do that than to have to pick out a casket.”
Cabonaro urged parents to “stop hiding” and “get out in the sun” with the community. “People who don’t think this will happen in their community are sadly mistaken,” she said. “I thought this would never happen to me.”
Dorothy Knowland Johnson of Maxes Out Prevention lost her son Max 13 years ago. “Margaret Mead was correct when she said that we should never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. I have seen it happen and I am seeing it now.”
Town Councilman Michael Loguercio, who also serves as vice president of his local EMS Rescue Squad, explained how he lost two of his nephews to drug addiction. “As a first responder, I’ve seen this too often,” he said.
Tierney praised these families for their resilience in the face of adversity. “Rather than turn inward in their time of grief, they turn outward and they fight to try to prevent families from going through what they did. I am so impressed and gratified by that.”
One of the obstacles that was discussed was the ability to get patients treatement. Loguercio said the reason hospitals turn them away “immediately” is not they are addicts but because they do not have insurance. In addition to holding drug dealers criminally responsible, he called for Albany legislators to introduce bills to have insurance companies cover treatment, recovery and hospital stays.
Whenever he brings in someone who has overdosed to the local hospital, the hospital “kicks them out immediately,” Loguercio said. “There are times we bring the same person in two times a day.”
Romaine concluded the press conference by thanking those who spoke and showed support. “Let’s hope there’ll come a day when we don’t need a rally or a meeting and we’ve conquered this,” he said.