A circle of 297 candles lit the stage of the Good Ground Park amphitheater, representing the lives lost to drug overdoses in Suffolk County last year; in the center burned six candles for those from Southampton.
Standing up Saturday was East Quogue resident Denise Erwin, who paid tribute to her daughter Melanie, 27, who died from a heroin overdose September 5.
“I will do anything to help people not go through what I am going through now — the pain of losing her,” said Erwin, who later clutched a framed picture of her daughter.
Fatal drug overdoses in Southampton climbed from five to 19 between 2016 and 2017, before dropping to six last year. One death has been recorded so far this year, according to statistics from the Southampton Town Police Department. Last year, there were over 400 county-wide deaths.
“We’ve cut that number down, and hope to continue to reduce it,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said.
Former News 12 anchor Drew Scott held the microphone for a grandmother who read a poem written by her 15-year-old grandson who also succumbed to a drug overdose.
“It’s much more intimate, a place to share stories of people you know that you loved and lost,” Schneiderman said. “It’s really moving.”
No stranger to the grief, Scott suffered the same heartbreak in 2017 with the loss his granddaughter Hallie Ulrich. The vigil “is a chance to remember those who have been lost,” Scott said. He credited the work of the town’s Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee, which sponsored the event, with the reduction of drug overdose deaths.
Schneiderman expressed hope that continuous education and awareness programs, as well as those aimed at helping with recovery, will continue to make an impact. “This epidemic is affecting everyone — these kids are under so much social pressure,” the supervisor said. “You may think, ‘I don’t have to worry about my kid.’ But you just might save a life.”
Town Director of Communications Connie Conway said she thought having a parent roundtable was crucial, to go along with previous medical and youth forums. “We really want to reach the young people,” Conway said, “and a parent is the first teacher of a child, so we’re trying to help them with tips to keep their children safe.”
The Opioid Addiction and Recovery Committee launched a new website earlier this year, http://www.findhelpsouthampton.com, which provides information about addiction and links to Suffolk County resources.
“When you have a child, they don’t give you a handbook,” Schneiderman said. “You have to learn a lot. We’re trying to help. We’re all learning. This is really valuable to people.”
With reporting by Desirée Keegan