Public Forum to eye Opioid Epidemic

Addiction Forum Wednesday

Southampton Town’s Opioid Addiction Task Force holds its “It Hits Home” public forum at Southampton High School Wednesday night at 7 PM. The aim of the gathering is to solicit input regarding the drug abuse epidemic.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman convened the task force in the wake of last year’s shocking number of overdose deaths. He hopes its latest outing will focus on families.

The supervisor wants to garner input from community members, but the forum will also present a number of speakers.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini is the keynote speaker. Sworn in to office in January, he immediately launched a robust program to improve public safety issues and combat the opioid addiction epidemic.

Formerly Suffolk County Police Commissioner, he reduced crime to the lowest level in its recorded history. Sini served as Assistant Deputy County Executive for Public Safety and implemented an innovative drug treatment program assisting Suffolk County inmates when they are released.

He started his career as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District; he investigated and prosecuted cases related to violent crime and gang activity, as well as large scale narcotics cases.

Sini serves as a representative to the White House Office of Drug Control Policy from the New York region, where he assists in creating strategies between public health and public safety agencies to reduce opioid overdoses in the region.

Pamela Stark and John Venza are also on the agenda. Venza is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has been working with children, adolescents, and families since 1982. He is the Vice President of Adolescent and Residential Services for Outreach Development Corporation in Brentwood, the largest residential adolescent substance abuse treatment program in the downstate New York region.

Venza learned firsthand the tragedy families face from the opioid addiction crisis when he lost his 21-year-old son, Garrett, from an overdose in November 2016.

Stark is a retired detective with the Nassau County Police Department. She served as the department’s Substance Abuse Awareness Coordinator to combat the opiate/heroin epidemic. She worked closely with kids in the “Too Good for Drugs” program and was part of the team that produced the award-winning video for middle school students, called “Impact.”

On May 12, the task force will hold a candlelight vigil at Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays. Candles will be lit in memory of the 19 Southampton Town residents who died from overdoses last year, as well as the one from 2018. Additional candles will represent the more than 400 people countywide who perished from addiction. “Each candle will represent the inner light of the individuals,” Schneiderman said, expressing the hope that the vigil is a way for people “to really come together as a community.”

In June, the task force is slated to present its final report. “That’s just the beginning,” Schneiderman said. “It doesn’t end there.”

kmerrill@indyeastend.com