It started as a modest idea last October when Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he was moved after learning of the death of Hallie Rae Ullrich, 22, of a heroin overdose. After discussing the tragedy with her grandfather, former News 12 anchorman Drew Scott, Schneiderman called for the creation of a town opioid addiction task force to come up solutions.
Originally envisioned as a 15-member panel, the task force ballooned in size to more than 40 members as school officials, health-care providers, law enforcement personnel, and ordinary citizens who had been touched, directly or indirectly, by the opioid crisis, came forward to offer their help.
Last week, right on schedule, the task force came before the town board to offer its preliminary recommendations for combating a crisis that claimed the lives of at least 19 Southampton residents last year and more than 400 across Suffolk County.
Recommendations include a call for broader prevention programs for everyone from schoolchildren to medical providers who give out the prescriptions that can have such devastating effects on people who find themselves easily addicted to opioid-based pain pills. While town police have begun to reach out to overdose victims they save — offering them the opportunity to be referred to someone who can help them and not just given a ride to jail — the task force wants to see still better coordination between police and treatment providers.
What’s most needed on the East End, task force members agree, is a treatment center and one or more sober houses. A local treatment center would provide addicts with the kind of in-patient care they need to take their first tentative steps toward recovery. And the availability of sober houses would give them a refuge when the temptation of their addiction rears its head, as it no doubt will.
Most important, now that the community has recognized that it does, indeed, have a problem, residents willing to confront it by welcoming treatment centers and sober houses into their community. That may prove to be the hard part.