After Linn Turecamo attended the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force’s first community forum in April, she knew she needed to get involved.
The forum that filled the Hampton Bays High School auditorium struck a nerve with the Southampton resident: The stories of addiction shared that night reminded her of so many people that she knew, personally, who were struggling with addiction.
Ms. Turecamo approached Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman after the close of the forum — something that she admits took her out of her comfort zone — and told him that she wanted to help the task force fight the opioid crisis.
She was immediately recruited to join the task force, which now has more than 40 members, as a member of its prevention subcommittee.
Last Thursday morning, Ms. Turecamo, a licensed real estate salesperson, was present as the task force completed its mission by presenting the Town Board with specific recommendations for ways to combat the crisis at the community level.
“I’m here because between my younger brother and I, we know two handfuls of people who have actually lost their lives to this, from this community,” said Ms. Turecamo, as she sat in front of the Town Board during last Thursday’s work session. “They are our neighbors. We had a fatal overdose in the house right next door to ours.
“Four of my colleagues have lost their children. And, unfortunately, I know even more people who, as I sit here right now, are struggling with their addictions today,” she added.
Ms. Turecamo noted that the people she knows who are fighting a drug addiction all have jobs, homes and families — and an uncanny ability to hide their dependency.
“But they are stealing prescription drugs from their grandmother’s medicine cabinet. They have secret bank accounts hidden from their significant others to fund their addiction,” she said. “My point is that we need to get to those who hear opioid epidemic and think that it’s something foreign that doesn’t concern them.”
The prevention committee made several recommendations to the Town Board that focused on strengthening education about addiction across the board for people in the community — including children, parents, educators and medical professionals.
The task force was formed in October 2017 by Mr. Schneiderman and former News 12 anchorman Drew Scott, whose granddaughter, Hallie Ulrich, died of an opioid overdose in September 2017.
“I was so happy that [Mr. Scott] was able to work through his grieving and make a difference in the community,” Mr. Schneiderman said on Thursday.
In addition to the prevention committee, the task force is made up of committees focusing on treatment, law enforcement and recovery.
While each committee came up with recommendations on their own, there was general agreement that Southampton Town could use more properly run sober homes.
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Sober homes, substance-free living environments for individuals in recovery, are an important step in the healing process for individuals in recovery, according to several members of the task force, because they keep individuals from returning to settings that could be conducive to a relapse.
Kym Laube, executive director of HUGS Inc., a member of the task force who is recovering from alcoholism, stressed the importance of sober homes on Thursday.
“It’s not a frat house or a party house,” Ms. Laube said. “Sometimes recovering addicts need a place to stay sober.”
Some members of the task force suggested using the Stony Brook Southampton campus for sober housing. Sober housing can also be placed in residential zones.
Mark Epley, CEO of the Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach, said a focus should also be put on recovery.
“Recovery is all about sustainability,” he said. “It’s all about developing a relationship with people, or a group, to help you live your life.”
Mr. Epley, who is also the former mayor of Southampton Village, added that recovery focuses largely on 12-step programs — commonly used in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous — to help an individual move forward from their addiction.
“In a way, addiction doesn’t go away,” Mr. Schneiderman added. “It’s always there.”
The law enforcement committee has already started implementing its recommendations at the Southampton Town Police headquarters in Hampton Bays.
Chief Steven Skrynecki explained that when police are called to administer Narcan — a prescription drug that reverses the effects of an overdose — the family is put in contact with members of the task force’s treatment subcommittee as part of a new “bridge” program. Although some individuals still refuse this offer of assistance, it has reportedly helped others get the help they needed.
Chief Skrynecki said the law enforcement committee also recommended that the town work to spread the word about the new Good Samaritan law, which is designed to encourage individuals to call 911 if they witness someone overdosing. The law protects the individual calling 911 from getting arrested if there are in possession of a controlled substance.
After the committees presented their ideas, Mr. Schneiderman said the Town Board would work to implement some of the recommendations and decide what the function of the task force would be moving forward.
Photo caption: Matthew Omlor gives recommendations to the Town Board about how to fight opioid addiction. (Credit: Amanda Bernocco)
(Editor’s Note: This stories was published in conjunction with The Southampton Press and Sag Harbor Express as part of the East End News Project on opioid addiction across the East End)